A Busy Gal Primer to Deforestation & Climate Change

Originally published on Selva Beat Magazine

As we inch closer to producing our third issue this year, the familiar mania of ultra-busyness sets in. It’s the I’m-neglecting-basic-necessities type of busy that keeps dry shampoo makers thriving, I’d wager. Last night, for example, I ate a cookie for dinner (at a sustainable mixer, at least?) and then scarfed a hot dog bun, standing in the kitchen, as my spouse updated me on current events. Sadly, this was a pretty good day.

Oddly, this is when I feel most connected to our readership. If you too are so overworked that you only read the news while brushing your teeth, then you probably don’t want the burden of being palm-oil free in your life, as well. You also probably don’t have the the time to keep up with climate change drivers, like deforestation, and solutions in the works to curb them. So, here’s a primer, for your next bus trip or long line at the post office:

CLIMATE CHANGE, FYI

If, like me, it’s been awhile since you simply read any climate change facts:

  • Our planet’s surface temperature has increased an average of 0.85C from 1880 to 2012

  • Rising temperatures affect grain yields. In fact, for every degree increase, crops like maize and wheat decrease 5%.

  • In just a decade, 215 billions tons of Greenland’s ice cap have melted - PER YEAR.

  • Sea levels are predicted to rise 40-63 cm by 2100, which is terrifying because ¾ of all large cities are coastal

** Information provided by the UNDP.

SO, DEFORESTATION…

The list goes on. And there are tons of climate change topics to read about (poverty, food security, oceans, infrastructure, displacement, etc), all of which are actually quite disheartening but fascinating and absolutely worth knowing. You deserve to get angry about each and every one of them, but right now, we’re starting with deforestation.

Maybe it’s because I live in a city but it’s always tough to get people to genuinely care about forests. We’re so removed from nature day-to-day and it’s hard to picture how our frenzied existence impacts indigenous tribes in Indonesia or air conditions in Singapore. But forests cover almost a third of the globe and the fact of the matter is, they’re incredibly vulnerable to the ravages of climate change. If you care about the eventual displacement of 1.6 billion indigenous people, you care about forests. If you care about safe drinking water and live in NYC, Barcelona, Tokyo, etc, you care about forests. If you care about endangered species like orangutans… well, that’s probably pretty obvious. You have to care about forests.

Okay, derailing the Shame Train. You’re here, so you care. Every minute, we wipe 48 football fields worth of forest from the earth and time is of the essence.

AND PALM-OIL...

Palm-oil is quickly gaining traction at the front of our deforestation issue. It is found all over the average American home in the form of shampoo, snacks, makeup, etc. It’s also used as fuel in other parts of the world. Last year, we witnessed “the worst manmade environmental disaster since the BP gulf oil spill” at the hands of unruly slash-and-burn fires in Indonesia, instigated by the palm-oil and paper industries. Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of palm, experienced over 500,000 cases of respiratory tract infections. A recent study estimated that a hundred thousand plus people died as a result of the fires too, as far reaching as Singapore. Pollution from this tragedy reached that of Japan’s yearly output in just a few short weeks.

If carbon emissions from tropical forests are worrisome, peatland emissions are downright tragic. Peatland is swampy earth on which leaves and debris routinely fall; they don’t decompose at regular rate and, as a result, build carbon over time. When palm-oil producers clear land with peat soil for plantations, that means bad news for the environment. Peat soil can store up to 28 times more carbon than forest itself, so it’s really imperative that we protect it.

But it’s not just big bad Indonesian palm that is driving global warming. Even the little guys - the plantations romanticized on the back of chip bags - are aggrandizing the issue. Last year, Peru lost over 150,000 hectares of forest and most of that was in small to medium chunks at a time.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

First and foremost, as I often say, curb your consumption of processed foods. The vegan stuff, too. Eat whole foods and try to choose organic and local whenever possible. Even before you begin investigating the reach and credibility of the RSPO, start changing your habits at home. The conflict palm-oil problem is worsened by the excessive production of completely non-essential items like cookies and liquid lipstick, etc. Find palm-oil free alternatives here.

Read more of Selva Beat Magazine, an environmental lifestyle print & digital magazine determined to make practical, ethical living aspirational here