Pages tagged "extinction"

RAN's Pictures of the Month: July

July was another busy month over at RAN's Facebook page!

Here's a look at the month's most popular pictures.

3. The Bronze Panther for Third Most Popular Picture goes to ... 


... these adorable (and threatened) orangutans.

Tell the Snack Food 20 to cut conflict palm oil, not rainforests:

2. The Silver Panther for Second Most Popular Picture goes to ...  


... the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminding us what Independence Day really means

1. And the Gold Panther for Most Popular Picture goes to ... 


... Thomas Edison! This picture definitely stirred up some controversy over his business practices, and his treatment of Nicola Tesla—but he was right about the potential of solar power. 

Like us on Facebook for great pictures every day!

Environmental Injustice in Alberta


In late June, a team of RAN staff travelled to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to participate in the Tar Sands Healing Walk, which is organized and hosted by members of the local First Nations Communities. Walking amidst the tar sands destruction was a humbling and powerful experience.

This blog post is one of a series, sharing our impressions and reflections.

Todd's previous post was "Industry's Dreams, Indigenous Nightmares: A Visit to the Alberta Tar Sands"

We left the tar sands boomtown of Fort McMurray via Highway 63, a notoriously dangerous road we were warned was trafficked by huge trucks hauling mining machinery and by oil workers cutting loose on their time off. Fortunately, we traveled the short distance to the Tar Sands Healing Walk camp without incident. We joined the healing walk encampment, a collection of tents and teepees along the beautiful Gregoire Lake, and were hosted by Keepers of the Athabasca, a network of Indigenous First Nations groups.

The natural beauty of Alberta is striking, and deceptive. At first glance, the land looks unspoiled, with thick stands of white-barked birch, a big sky, and the placid waters of Gregoire Lake. Tragically, the idyllic façade belies profound contamination: the air, waters, animals, and people of Alberta are poisoned. This reality was quickly hammered home in the Tars Sands Healing Walk camp. Drinking water for the gathering of several hundred had been pumped from a residence at nearby Fort Chipewyan, and the water reeked of methane gas. Apparently, some of the well-intentioned visitors in attendance helpfully pointed this out to the community hosts, prompting a sobering announcement from the stage: "People are complaining about the water smelling of methane. This is what people drink here. There is no other water." Later the same day, Annette Campre from Fort McKay First Nation told the crowd that she has been using bottled water to bathe her children for years. The Athabasca River flows north through the tar sands mines, carrying contaminants away from major population centers and toward Fort Chipewyan, a community of Chipewyan, Cree, and Metis First Nations people. One suspects that the intense water contamination visited on Fort Chipewyan would not be permitted if the river of pollutants flowed south from the tar sands into the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Calgary.

The consequences of tar sands mining contaminants are disproportionately borne by First Nations communities, like Fort Chipewyan, a tiny town with a hugely anomalous incidence of rare and aggressive cancers, like bile-duct cancer. At the Tar Sands Healing Walk encampment, we heard from Dr. John O’Connor, the fly-in doctor for Fort Chipewyan and early whistleblower on the abnormally high incidence of cancers in the region. Dr. O’Connor recounted efforts by industry and government to discredit his first-hand observances, which have been borne out in a recent study that found that 21.3% of surveyed First Nations persons displayed evidence of cancer. The study also reported "that cancer occurrence is significantly and positively associated with participant employment in the Oil Sands as well as the consumption of traditional foods and locally caught fish."

The cancer epidemic faced by First Nations communities in the Alberta Tar Sands region are appalling, but the damage inflicted by tar sands mining on Canada's original people goes deeper. The same recent study documented "elevated levels of the environmental contaminants arsenic, cadmium, mercury and selenium, as well as PAHs (some carcinogenic) in the foods traditionally harvested by the First Nations in the region." Translation: the game that Indigenous people rely on in Alberta is ridden with toxins. For First Nations people, this has much deeper implications than the simple right to uncontaminated food stocks. As I learned at the Tar Sands Healing Walk, many of the important ceremonial and spiritual practices of Alberta's First Nations rely on traditional relationships with game, including hunting and the consumption of this meat. Tar sands developments threaten local species like the caribou with extinction, and are poisoning fish and game stocks. For First Nations communities, the contamination and degradation of the land is an existential threat; if First Nations people are unable to pass on traditional knowledge and practice, their culture and spiritual practice is destroyed. As we learned at the Tars Sands Healing Walk, the continued development of the Albertan tar sands is a perpetuation of cultural genocide by settler culture.

So what is to be done about this? Tune in next week for a final post—“Resistance: what do we do about the tar sands?”

Image: Chipewyan drummers lead the Tar Sands Healing walk. The Chipewyan culture is directly threatened by tar sands mining.

Turn Up The Heat on PepsiCo

On May 20, thousands of us united in a Global Day of Action to tell PepsiCo to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil. PepsiCo responded by announcing a Forestry Stewardship Policy and Palm Oil Commitment, but neither of these new promises are strong enough to guarantee that Pepsi’s use of palm oil is not driving rainforest destruction, species extinction and human and labor rights abuses. 

PepsiCo is the largest globally distributed snack food company in the world - the company uses enough palm oil every single year to fill Pepsi cans that would stretch around the Earth 4 times - but it has fallen out of step with its peers and still has no truly responsible palm oil purchasing policy.

This has to change -- and with your help it will. Are you with us?

Instead of cutting Conflict Palm Oil from its products, PepsiCo continues to push its darkly ironic #LiveForNow campaign. PepsiCo is telling people not to worry about climate change, the fate of the last wild orangutans and children that are forced to work in slave-like conditions on oil palm plantations and just #LiveForNow!

It’s our job to tell PepsiCo that #LiveForNow isn’t good enough. This summer we’re turning up the heat.

PepsiCo is pushing its #LiveForNow propaganda out through it’s “Real Big Summer” marketing campaign which includes Pepsi sponsored concerts and events across the US. We need YOU to crash Pepsi-sponsored events and deliver the message that #LiveForNow shouldn’t mean rainforest destruction, climate change and human rights abuses.

Will you join us?

Because of you PepsiCo has made some progress. With your help we’ve convinced the snack food giant to go beyond just sourcing Roundtable on Sustainable Palm certified palm oil. However, PepsiCo’s policies lack a commitment to trace its palm oil back to the plantations where the oil palm fruit was grown and to verify that its suppliers operations are free of forced and child labor, conflicts with Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and clearance of rainforests and peatlands. It also lacks a time bound action plan, so it’s hard for its consumers to know what steps it will take to clean up its palm oil supply chain.

This isn’t good enough. PepsiCo must adopt a policy that is inline with what forests, the people that rely on them and our planet need and demand that its suppliers, like Cargill, do the same.

With your help we’ll convince the global snack food giant to take the steps that will guarantee that its products - like Quaker Oats and Frito-Lay Chips - will be free of Conflict Palm Oil for good.

Help us turn up the heat on PepsiCo this summer. Sign up to let us know you’re in.


From the Field: A Call To Protect Sumatra’s Crown Jewel

[caption id="attachment_22586" align="alignleft" width="300"]expanse of palms The Leuser, Sumatra's pristine crown jewel.[/caption] Chances are you’ve heard of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, America’s Yellowstone and Africa’s Serengeti - iconic wild areas rightly famous the world over for their outstanding natural grandeur. But how about Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem? No? Well then, please allow me to introduce you. Remote, rugged and not easily entered beyond its edges, the Leuser contains one of earth’s most radiant displays of life. It is a vast, teeming landscape stretching across some six million acres of steamy peatland swamps and intact lowland and mountainous rainforests. The forests of the Leuser are some of earth’s most ancient, meaning evolution has had the opportunity to work its colorful, fractal magic over unbroken tropical millennia – and the resulting richness of plant and animal varieties is spectacular. The Leuser is home to the densest population of orangutans remaining anywhere and it is the only place where orangutans, tigers, elephants, rhinos and sun bears roam the same forest together. It may also be where many of these endangered animals make their last stand for survival. Almost entirely within Indonesia’s Aceh Province on the north tip of the island of Sumatra, the Leuser Ecosystem is by any measure a world-class hotspot of biodiversity. In fact it is among the most fertile places ever documented. But the Leuser is under siege from palm oil plantations and other development coming from all sides. [caption id="attachment_22587" align="alignnone" width="550"]The boundary between the forest and cleared land is stark. The boundary between the forest and cleared land is stark.[/caption] The Leuser Ecosystem contains three areas of carbon-rich peatlands known locally as the Tripa, Kluet and Singkil peat swamps. These tropical peat forests are the single most important type of ecosystem for the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, but they are rapidly being drained, cleared and illegally burned for palm oil plantation expansion. The scale and totality of devastation that has already been inflicted upon Sumatra’s once expansive rainforests is hard to overstate and even harder to fully comprehend. The only way to really begin to appreciate the immensity of what’s been lost is to see it from the air, industrial palm oil plantations sprawling so far in places that they curve out of view with the earth. [caption id="attachment_22589" align="alignnone" width="550"]RAN's Laurel Sutherlin highlights the area of an orangutan rescue.RAN's Laurel Sutherlin highlights the area of an orangutan rescue.[/caption] Over the past three days, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to skirt the edges of the Leuser and catch fleeting glimpses of what’s inside. We found elephant poop on the trail, heard Siamangs (an acrobatic ape with inflatable throat sacs) calling overhead and spotted an orangutan nest high in a tree. Each of these hopeful signs of life were found just steps outside the geometric rows of oil palm pressing incessantly forward. To reach the fraying edges of the ecosystem required a sobering journey of hours upon hours of treacherous driving through a labyrinthine maze of muddy plantation roads. Standing even at a distance from the primary forest here you can hear the cacophonous sounds of life emanating from within – gibbons bellowing, birds singing and bugs of all kind buzzing. Inside the scorched earth of the plantations, however, is an unsettling silence. Hours can pass without even seeing a bird. The chemical laden plantations are a total biological wasteland. This destruction is the face of Conflict Palm Oil. Real people’s livelihoods are being stolen from them and whole species are threatened with annihilation forever. [caption id="attachment_22590" align="alignnone" width="550"]Devastation of the forest. This is what a Conflict Palm Oil plantation looks like. Devastation of the forest. This is what a Conflict Palm Oil plantation looks like.[/caption] Political instability in Aceh shielded much of the region’s forests from the devastation inflicted on the rest of Sumatra in past decades, but the new government of Aceh is right now considering a plan that would remove protections from large regions of forest within the Leuser Ecosystem. If there were ever an absolute no-go zone of highest-level international conservation priority, the Leuser Ecosystem is it. Palm oil from the Leuser is already entering the global marketplace with no way to track where it ends up. No further destruction of this world-class area for palm oil, mining or other commodity production should be considered acceptable. All is not lost though. An enormous block of intact, primary forest remains. But it is the last. There is no more fucking this up and getting second chances to preserve a place of this size and caliber. [caption id="attachment_22592" align="alignnone" width="550"]Forest and animals cleared, land terraced, and palms planted. Without action, it's only a matter of time until this Conflict Palm Oil ends up in snack food on the other side of the world. Forest and animals cleared, land terraced, and palms planted. Without action, it's only a matter of time until this Conflict Palm Oil ends up in snack food on the other side of the world.[/caption] Rainforest Action Network’s campaign, Last Stand of the Orangutan: The Power is in Your Palm, is designed to leverage our collective customer power to convince some of the worlds most powerful food companies, The Snack Food 20, to make firm demands of their suppliers that they will only purchase truly responsible palm oil that can be traced back to its source to verify it was not grown in places like the Leuser. The companies who buy palm oil produced at the expense of the Leuser Ecosystem need to hear that you are paying attention and that you demand an end to Conflict Palm Oil in your food. A number of these companies have explicitly told us that they know they have a palm oil problem but that they are not yet hearing a strong enough outcry from their customers to make the needed change. We have to change that, and quick. The politics of Indonesia and the intricacies of international commodity supply chains are fiendish and complex, but they are not insurmountable. If you have not yet taken action to stand with the last wild orangutans by sending an #InYourPalm photo petition to the Snack Food 20 companies – please do it now. If you have not signed up for RAN’s Palm Oil Action Team, you can do that here. Then stay tuned and we will alert you to the key, strategic moments to fight for the Leuser and the next phases of this ambitious effort to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil for good.

Dunkin' Feels the Heat in Boston

RAG_DunkinVisit_550Today I visited the corporate headquarters of Dunkin' Brands Group, Inc. with Strawberry, an orphaned orangutan from Indonesia, to let the company know that consumers all across the world want Dunkin' to stop using Conflict Palm Oil in its products. Dunkin’ has recognized the problems associated with the production of Conflict Palm Oil but it has yet to publicly release a palm oil procurement policy. That's why we're calling on Dunkin’ to adopt a palm oil procurement policy that ensures that the palm oil in its supply chain is in fact fully traceable, legally grown, and sourced from verified responsible palm oil producers not associated with deforestation, expansion onto carbon-rich peatlands or human and labor rights violations. Dunkin' needs to hear from all of you on the Palm Oil Action Team right now! Tell the company to turn its recognition of the problems with Conflict Palm Oil into a global palm oil policy and take action to cut Conflict Palm Oil from its products immediately. 1. Call Dunkin' at (781) 737-3000. Here's a call script you can use:
“Hi, my name is [your name] from [your city]. I’m a [student, mom..] and one of your valued customers! It concerns me that your company cannot guarantee that it is not using conflict palm oil in its products. Dunkin' Brands Group, Inc. must demand responsible palm oil from its suppliers and eliminate conflict palm oil from its products. Dunkin' has recognized the problems with Conflict Palm Oil, now I encourage you to take action by adopting a new global responsible palm oil procurement policy and implementation plan that ensures that the palm oil in your company’s supply chain is fully traceable, legally grown, and sourced from verified responsible palm oil producers not associated with deforestation, expansion onto carbon-rich peatlands or human and labor rights violations. Thank You!”
2. Post this message on Dunkin's Facebook wall:
Hey Dunkin' Brands Group, Inc., I’m standing with orangutans, and I can’t stand by brands that use Conflict Palm Oil. Demand responsible palm oil from your suppliers and eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from your products. The power is #InYourPalm.
3. Tweet at Dunkin':
@DunkinDonuts I can’t stand by brands that use Conflict #PalmOil. The power is #InYourPalm.
At the Dunkin' HQ, Strawberry and I gave representatives of the company a copy of the RAN report Conflict Palm Oil: How US Snack Food Brands are Contributing to Orangutan Extinction, Climate Change and Human Rights Violations and outlined RAN's demand to cut Conflict Palm Oil. Dunkin' has the potential to do significant good by cutting Conflict Palm Oil, but the company needs to hear from as many of us as possible. Call Dunkin and encourage the company to cut Conflict Palm Oil from its products and set an example for the rest of the Snack Food 20.

New Study: Protected Forests Won't Combat Species Extinction Without Proper Safety Buffer Zones

[caption id="attachment_19778" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Captured on hidden camera footage released by the Indonesia Ministry of Forestry, rare sighting of Sumatran Rhinos sparks international attention"]Captured on Hidden Camera and Released by the Indoensia Ministry of Forestry, Rare Sighting of Sumatran Rhinos Sparks International Attention[/caption] Is protecting a small fragment of intact natural forest habitat amidst a sea of oil palm plantations enough to combat extinction? Two rare, critically endangered Sumatran rhinos were recently captured on hidden camera in Leuser National Park, Indonesia for the first time in 26 years. This came as a surprise to wildlife conservationists, as there are only an estimated 200 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild in small pockets throughout Indonesia and Malaysia. An estimated 70 percent of the Sumatran rhino population has been lost since 1985, due to poaching and loss of habitat from palm oil and pulp and paper plantation expansion. Although it’s clearly great news that these two rhinos have been documented inside the Leuser National Park protected area for the first time in 26 years, a new study published in Nature shows that protecting the land surrounding these areas is every bit as important as the health of the reserves themselves. The authors report:
Crucially, environmental changes immediately outside reserves seemed nearly as important as those inside in determining their ecological fate, with changes inside reserves strongly mirroring those occurring around them.
Meaning that, even with the best of intentions, the conservation of discreet pieces of park land cannot maintain healthy and vibrant habitat for wildlife if the ecosystem right outside the boundaries of the park is being devastated. [caption id="attachment_19779" align="alignleft" width="262" caption="Tripa Swamp: A Threatened Pocket of Biodiversity Amidst the Greater Leuser Ecosystem. Click for larger image."]Tripa Swamp: A Threatened Pocket of Biodiversity Amidst the Greater Leuser Ecosystem[/caption] This finding sheds light on the fate of Tripa—an area of 61,803 hectares on the west coast of the province of Aceh that represents one of only six remaining populations of the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan. Tripa is part of the Leuser Ecosystem, in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, which covers more than 2.6 million hectares of prime tropical rain forest and is the last place on earth where the Sumatran sub-species of elephants, rhinoceros, tigers and orangutans coexist. What we’ve witnessed in the past six months is the near wholesale extinction of Sumatran orangutans due to the fires intentionally set by palm oil companies both inside and outside Tripa, threatening endangered orangutans throughout the region. Given the amount of endangered species struggling for survival inside Leuser National Park, our task is not only to protect this pocket of biodiversity that may not be able to survive long term, but to protect natural forests throughout Indonesia that are being razed to the ground to feed the growing appetite of international markets for cheap palm oil and pulp and paper. Whether it’s orangutans or rhinos who are eking out survival inside protected areas that are themselves under threat by encroaching deforestation, the habitat that these creatures depend on has been relentlessly chipped away by palm oil producers and pulp and paper companies. The urgency of the situation on the ground in Indonesia is even more pressing today than our August 2011 analysis that protected areas alone are not enough to combat the sixth mass extinction.

A 48 Hour Twitter Jam to Save Tripa

[caption id="attachment_18607" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Photo by Carlos Quiles"]Tripa burning[/caption] This blog comes from our friends at End of the Icons. In an amazing global response to the tragedy in Tripa, thousands of people all around the world have emailed the President of Indonesia and key stakeholders calling for the law to be enforced and this precious peatland to be saved. We are happy to tell you it is already working. We are making a difference. After thousands of you signed the petition, the chairman of the REDD+ Taskforce, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, sent a team of lawyers to Tripa. They are on the ground collecting evidence right now. Your voice is effective. Now, we need your help to launch the next phase of the campaign to save Tripa and its inhabitants: a 48-hour Twitter jam. Tweet to the influential people who can help us in this case. The law is on our side, momentum is on our side, now we just need to make certain the court is on our side, and the criminals get punished for destroying Tripa! Use hashtag #savetripa in your tweets to help make it a trending topic. Here are some tweets you can post: • Foreign Minister Martyn is active on twitter, so we know he is one person who will get the message loud and clear — the whole world wants justice for Tripa.
Dear Minister @martynatalegawa the world is watching how Indonesia enforces the law in Tripa! #savetripa
• The Indonesian President has received thousands of emails, let's keep his attention focused!
Dear president @soesilobambang we want to see JUSTICE in Tripa. This is our demand #savetripa
• The Minister of Forestry is responsible for deciding what forests get to live and what forests get cut down.
Dear Ministry of Forestry @zul_hasan you have to make sure JUSTICE is served in Tripa #savetripa"
• The Minister of Agriculture should be investigating palm oil companies operating illegally all over Indonesia.
Dear Minister @suswono palm oil company PT Kalista Alam is breaking the law in Tripa #savetripa"
• The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has to make sure justice is served in court on April 3rd (more on that below).
Dear @KEMENKUMHAM the world demands JUSTICE to be served in Tripa #savetripa "
• Originally the area of Forest that PT Kallista Alam is destroying was part of a multi-billion dollar forest protection deal between Norway and Indonesia. The people of Norway must be outraged that their money is going up in smoke!
Dear @Kronprinsparet Norwegian taxpayer money is going up in smoke because of corrupt Indonesian officials #savetripa
• World Bank funds are used both for protection and destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem, the wider area in which Tripa lies. We're asking them to investigate.
@WorldBank money is used to fund the destruction of protected #orangutan habitat in Indonesia #savetripa
• The United Nations' Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP) lists Tripa as a priority site for orangutan protection. We're asking UNEP GRASP, UNEP and UNESCO to investigate.
Dear @graspunep Tripa is a priority site for the protection of Orangutans #savetripa Dear @UNEP Tripa is a priority site for the protection of Orangutans #savetripa Dear @UNESCO Tripa is a priority site for the protection of Orangutans #savetripa
Burning protected forests and peatlands is against multiple Indonesian laws, and we will continue to watch this investigation very closely. In less than 48 hours, the court of Aceh will be announcing the judge's verdict in the case against the major culprits in burning forests in Tripa, the PT Kallista Alam oil palm company and former governor Irwandi Yusuf. Allowing palm oil permits within the Tripa Peat Swamp Forest is against the law, as it is an integral part of the Leuser Ecosystem, home to rhinos, elephants, clouded leopards, tigers and of course, orangutans. Tripa is protected by the National Spatial Plan established by government regulation 26/2008 under the National Spatial Planning Law number 26/2007. "This is really a test case," said Chik Rini, a World Wildlife Fund campaigner, noting that while it's not uncommon for timber, pulp, paper and palm oil companies to raze trees in protected areas, few developments have occurred in Tripa, an area that seems so obviously off limits. "If they get away with it here, well, then no forests are safe." Find Reports, Photos, Film, Media and more on our website: The Independent wrote one of the most complete and accurate media stories to come out so far: Up in smoke: ecological catastrophe in the Sumatran swamps. ~~ Happy tweeting everyone! Please share this widely! – ~~ Never underestimate the power of your friends! ~~

Raging Fires in Indonesia Displacing Communities and Pushing Orangutans to Edge of Extinction

A global tragedy is unfolding in Indonesia this week as fires rage through Tripa Swamp, displacing local communities and threatening hundreds of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans. These fires, initially set by palm oil companies to clear land for more plantations, are pushing this population of orangutans to the edge of extinction. Conservation experts say the extinction of the orangutan population of Tripa is no longer years away, but only a matter of months, even weeks. [caption id="attachment_18530" align="alignnone" width="550" caption="Photo by Carlos Quiles/March 27, 2012"][/caption] Tripa Swamp is a forest of special value. It is home to one of the largest remaining population of wild orangutans, is rich in biodiversity, and has provided livelihoods to Indonesian forest communities for generations. Help save Tripa and the wildlife and people who live there: Demand that the president of Indonesia uphold the nation's forest protection laws and order the palm oil companies to cease land clearing and burning in the Tripa forest. Tripa swamp is comprised of deep peat — more than 20 feet deep in some parts. Peatlands contain decades of decaying material that, when submerged in water, becomes habitat for many species and stores huge amounts of carbon, which plays an important role in regulating our global climate. As peat swamps are drained of water, the decaying vegetation releases massive amounts of carbon and the drying, decaying vegetation turns the rainforest into a matchbox. For this reason and others, Tripa peat swamp, part of the Leuser Ecosystem, is widely considered to be of significant conservation value and was designated in 2008 as a National Strategic area for environmental protection under the National Spatial plan.

In 2007 Governor Yusuf of Aceh signed a province-wide moratorium on forest logging, another law to provide protection to the Tripa rainforest. Yusuf eventually was named the “green governor” for this action he took to protect the forest. But despite these legal protections and his “green” reputation, Governor Yusuf issued a permit in August 2011 to PT Kallista Alam to allow 1,605 hectares of deep peat in the Tripa forest to be converted into a palm oil plantation. None of the forest communities were consulted for this permit, denying them their rights to control their traditional lands and forcing them to face air and water pollution and loss of their forest livelihoods. In November of 2011 a coalition of NGO’s filed a legal case against the Governor and PT Kallista Alam for the illegal expansion into Tripa forest. Once this case was filed and palm oil companies learned community groups were trying to stop their expansion, they rushed to burn and clear more forest, resulting in the massive fires ablaze today. [caption id="attachment_18531" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Photo by Carlos Quiles/March 11, 2012"][/caption] Since the case was filed there have been numerous hearings and the world is awaiting the court decision to be released next week. If the judges rule in favor of the Governor and PT Kallista Alam — allowing the permit to remain — the future of this global biodiversity hotspot will be at great risk. The international community cannot just stand by watching this beautiful forest ecosystem get destroyed. We need your URGENT help. Please take action by telling President Yudhoyono of Indonesia to order palm oil companies to cease the burning of the Tripa forest immediately and save Sumatran orangutans. For more information about Tripa and this global tragedy, please see End of the Icons. Images by Carlos Quiles.

Can Protected Areas Combat the Sixth Mass Extinction?

Our planet is currently facing one of the most destructive extinction events in the history of the earth, with an estimated loss of 30,000 species per year, known as the Sixth Mass Extinction. The cause?  Humans. The pulp and paper and palm oil industries are causing species extinction left, right, and center in one of the planet’s most important biological hotspots—Indonesia. [caption id="attachment_15055" align="alignleft" width="297" caption="Giraffe via Flickr by Durotriges"]Giraffe[/caption] Scientists have identified 25 “hotspots” of biological diversity, comprising a mere 1.4% of the earth’s surface, that contain an astounding 44% of vascular plants and 35% of vertebrates.  Hotspots are chosen based on their high species richness (number of species), high level of endemism (how many species occur nowhere else in the world), and high threat from human activity.  Why is it that a mere 1.4% of our earth’s surface, including hotspots rich in biodiversity like Indonesia, cannot be issued full protection at this time? Our current solution to the incredible loss of species is protected areas, which are critical in an attempt to conserve our world’s biodiversity.  However, a recent scientific paper published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series by scientists Mora and Sale explores whether protected areas are enough to preserve a significant amount of biodiversity.  Their conclusion: definitely not. The word “protection” is often used too loosely, as an incredible amount of land is only “protected” on paper.  A large part of the conservation battle lies in increasing and solidifying these protected areas, but this alone is not enough to save even a fraction of our world’s precious biota. Consider the case of rainforest-destroying industry giant Asia Pulp & Paper: APP protects one small plot of land here, and destroys an entire forest over there.  This is certainly not an effective way to protect areas deemed critical hotspots by leading scientists. [caption id="attachment_15051" align="alignright" width="295" caption="Image via Flickr by Arenamontanus"]Origin of Species Wordle[/caption] In theory, protected areas such as reserves and national parks are useful because they allow little to no resource extraction and minimize or prohibit development.  In practice, however, protected areas tell a different story.  Look at the Indonesia Moratorium, for example.  Sixty four million hectares of tropical forest are supposedly preserved, but the actual picture on the ground is very different as forests continue to be logged and peatlands drained. It’s clear that protected areas are too small and too few.  We are currently protecting a very small percentage of the earth’s surface.  Since we do not have the resources or means to protect all of the land on our planet, scientists suggest we must first place priority on biodiversity hotspots, areas of utmost importance to global biodiversity. Indonesia is a one such priority area, the protection of which scientists consider critical to not only preserve species, but also to mitigate severe climate change.   Indonesia contains some of the oldest and most valuable forest in the world, and its high species richness, endemism, and severe threat has recently led to its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Danger. [caption id="attachment_14918" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Biodiversity Hotspots highlighted in red. Photo: Conservation International 2004"][/caption] Another huge challenge with protected areas is poor enforcement.  National parks with which we are most familiar in the United States tend to have fairly strict protection, but those in developing nations, particularly Southeast Asia, are overwhelmingly what we might call “paper parks.”  Many areas issued protection are drawn on maps as reserves, but little to no enforcement exists.  Corruption and unmonitored practices such as illegal logging and extraction of wildlife for the pet trade occur all too frequently. At the current rate of population expansion, protected areas will collapse in the near future as we struggle as a species to extract enough resources to survive and will be forced to expand onto protected lands.  Not only is curbing population growth paramount to conserving our resources, but lowering the egregious consumption rate per person, especially in developed nations such as the United States, is just as crucial.  We live in a society that measures success by growth, and growth is measured by an increase in the appetite of consumers.  Our current model is conducive to destroying the planet and its resources, and this must change in order for our planet to be sustained in its current form for future generations.  Just like any individual population, the earth itself has a carrying capacity, and we are nearing the tipping point after which many biota will no longer be able to survive, and neither will we.

What Do Environmentalists And Animal Rights Activists Have In Common?

[caption id="attachment_14597" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Less than 400 critically endangered Sumatran tigers remain in the wild. No more habitat deforestation for palm oil & paper!"]Sumatran tiger[/caption] What do the environmental and animal rights movements have in common? More than you might think, including a profound love of certain vegan products that mark an intersection of our work to create a more just and sustainable future for all of Earth's inhabitants. This past weekend I had the pleasure of participating in a keynote panel at the close of the 2011 National Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles. Every seat in the large ballroom was taken by a dedicated animal rights activist, even though it was late on a Sunday evening. Prior to the presentation, as I walked past tables and booths and chatted with people, I was inspired by the many folks I met who have dedicated so much of their time and energy to their values and beliefs. I had been asked to speak on a panel about bridges between the animal rights and environmental movements. Also on the panel were Taryn Kiekow, a lawyer with Natural Resources Defense Council, and Dr. Rose Marie White, Southern California Endangered Species chair of the Sierra Club. Taryn spoke about NRDC's work to protect whales, and Rose Marie talked about how struggles to protect land are also struggles to protect the incredible species of wildlife that reside there. George Shea, who hosted the keynote panel, spoke in his introductory comments about the paramount issue of climate change, and it's connection to species extinction risks, thus situating climate change as a primary issue of animal rights. In my presentation, I echoed George's concerns of climate change's risk of driving extinction, and of the right of animals to exist. I focused my analysis through the lens of deforestation. Indonesia's rainforests are home to incredible, majestic, and endangered creatures such as the orangutan and Sumatran tiger. Currently, Indonesia's rapid pace of deforestation has made the country the world's 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter behind the US and China. That's right: Not only does rainforest destruction directly threaten the habitat of wildlife, it also releases more greenhouse gases than all of the cars, trains, planes, and trucks in the U.S. combined! Exacerbating climate change will only further endanger all of us, including our animal relatives. Animal rights , environmental, social justice and climate justice activism all have significant reasons to confront the drivers of deforestation in Indonesia. This issue is a major intersection in our movements. It was incredible to name those drivers of deforestation in my presentation: pulp and paper and palm oil plantation expansion. Many people in the room already know about Cargill, the largest privately owned corporation in the world, and the #1 importer of palm oil in the United States. Cargill has long been on the animal rights sh*t-list because of their inhumane profit model in the cattle industry. Now animal rights activists have another reason to work to stop Cargill from practicing business as usual: The company has no commitments to change its palm oil supply chain in time to save Sumatran tigers and orangutans. cargill logo jam You can take action by signing our petition to Cargill right now. Then, call Cargill and tell CEO Gregory Page exactly what you think about their palm oil problem: 1-800-CARGILL (1-800-227-4455). [caption id="attachment_14598" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Earth Balance vegan buttery spread contains palm oil sourced from RSPO-members. Not enough. "][/caption] What came as a surprise to some and an ironic twist to others is the fact that palm oil is in some of our most beloved vegan products, including Earth Balance vegan buttery spread. OH THE SALTY TEARS! While Earth Balance knows its consumers enough to have a palm oil statement on its homepage, the company is still standing behind sourcing from Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) members. Membership is not certification. My mom could join the RSPO for $3,000. Just kidding. Kind of. But seriously, read RAN Agribusiness Campaigner Ashley Schaeffer's blog about the RSPO Membership Myth. Earth Balance needs to only source RSPO-certified palm oil, RSPO-member-supplied is NOT enough for the expectations of a vegan consumer base. Vegans and animal rights activists have made inspiring, courageous choices to live by their values. Palm oil ending up in vegan products that are causing orangutan extinction is a time bomb in consumer advocacy that vegan product suppliers would be wise to address rather than avoid. And we know animal rights advocates are not going to settle for anything other than real solutions. After the talk, I was inspired by how many people were so excited to get involved, to take action, and to learn more. By strategically aligning our movements where our issues overlap, we can make significant strides in protecting rainforests, the creatures that depend on this habitat, and keeping our climate stable. In this way, we are bridging our movements around focused strategy and solutions, and this is an issue we will WIN!

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