Saturday, April 4

Race Against Time

Forest clearing for an oil palm plantation in Malaysia 
Photo by Rhett A. Butler, founder, Mongabay 

A sour-grapes response to Rhett Butler's report (below) from a Mongabay reader named Attan Akmar: 
"A pound of palm oil is produced on a tenth of the farm area required to produce the same quantity of soy oil. It's soy oil that should be discouraged especially after millions of acres of forest have been cleared by western nations for centuries to produce it."

The retort, from another reader named Murrah Noble at the University of Texas at Austin:
"Well, it's a step in the right direction."

Yes it is a right step but time has run out for single steps.  Recall Nobre's warning:
As long ago as 2009, Antonio Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading climate scientists, warned that, without the “flying rivers”, the area that produces 70% of South America’s GNP would be desert.
In an interview with the journal Valor Economica, he said: “Destroying the Amazon to advance the agricultural frontier is like shooting yourself in the foot. The Amazon is a gigantic hydrological pump that brings the humidity of the Atlantic Ocean into the continent and guarantees the irrigation of the region.”
“Of course, we need agriculture,” he said. “But without trees there would be no water, and without water there is no food."
Few listened to Nobre back then. Everybody started listening in 2014, when it was learned that the Amazon's flying rivers hadn't put in their annual appearance -- and for the first time since record-keeping on the phenomenon had started.  And of course this discovery coincided with a catastrophic drought in the region.

Flying rivers aren't unique to the Amazon forests although they are, or were, probably the largest; the huge vapor trails in the sky are simply the product of huge masses of leaves in forests giving off moisture in concentrated form.        
Yet it didn't take all of the forest to be cut down before the Amazon's flying rivers couldn't be found.  

Now consider just one of the falling dominoes, if deforestation in Malaysia cuts out the flying rivers in that region of the world: Singapore relies on Malaysia for half of its water.  

So these aren't a bunch of wild-eyed tree huggers Butler is talking about. These are people who understand that Nature has no interest in human achievements.

KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut adopt zero deforestation policy for palm oil
Rhett A. Butler
April 03, 2015

Yum! Brands, the company that owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, on Thursday announced a zero deforestation policy for its palm oil sourcing. The move came after aggressive campaigns by environmental groups that argued the chains weren't doing enough to ensure the palm oil they used to fry foods wasn't linked to human rights abuses, destruction of peatlands, and logging of rainforests.

The policy sets a December 2017 target for establishing safeguards for palm oil sourcing. Yum! says it will only source from suppliers who bar plantation development in high carbon stock and high conservation value areas, like rainforests and peatlands; have disputes resolution processes in place; offer traceability to the mill level; and avoid underage workers and forced labor. The standards apply Yum!'s global fast food business, meaning it applies to all of its restaurants.

Yum! has a similar set of guidelines for its paper and fiber sourcing.

The announcement was quickly welcomed by Greenpeace, which campaigned against the company's pulp and paper sourcing practices in 2012.

“Yum! Brands’ new palm oil policy is a good sign it’s listening to customers around the world who want rainforest destruction taken off the menu.” said Rolf Skar, Forest Campaign Director at Greenpeace USA.

Skar added that Greenpeace still wants Yum! to "more clearly define terms like 'high carbon stock forest' and 'best management practices' for peatlands in order to make sure change really happens on the ground."

However the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an advocacy group that on Wednesday released a scorecard giving Yum! a zero out of 100 rank on its palm oil policy, wanted more from the company.

"Yum! Brands seems to have good intentions with this commitment," said UCS's Lael Goodman in a statement. "The problem is that palm oil is also a common ingredient in some the company’s baked goods and sauces – products that are prepared by a third-party vendor – and are not covered under the commitment. This is where the commitment loses steam."

Nonetheless Goodman said that the policy would boost Yum! on UCS's scorecard, moving it out of the bottom position it shared with Wendy's, Carl's Jr, Dairy Queen, and Domino's.

"The company scored a zero as of yesterday, but today’s announcement will surely raise their score somewhat," she said.

"However, if Yum! Brands wants to be an environmental leader amongst fast food giants, the company should to extend the commitment to all forms of palm oil and bulk up its transparency efforts. Such transparency efforts include reporting the quantities of palm oil used and on the commitment’s implementation."

Yum!'s commitment has been made much easier in recent years with the adoption of zero deforestation policies by some of the world's largest palm oil producers and traders, including Golden-Agri Resources, Wilmar, Cargill, Musim Mas, IOI, and Bunge. These policies have emerged as a direct result of pressure from advocacy groups and consumers concerned over palm oil's role in driving conversion of peatlands and rainforests for plantations. 

Most of the damage has occurred in Malaysia and Indonesia, but the industry has its sights on expanding in West and Central Africa, the Amazon, Central America, and other parts of tropical Asia.

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