Canada Leading ‘Deforestation Nation’ In Race to Destroy Planet’s Last Wilderness Areas

Canada's tar sands projects visible from space
Canada’s tar sands projects visible from space

Forest Loss Results in Massive Emissions of CO2

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 5 2014 (IPS) 

The world’s last remaining forest wilderness is rapidly being lost – and much of this is taking place in Canada, not in Brazil or Indonesia where deforestation has so far made the headlines.

A new satellite study reveals that since 2000 more than 104 million hectares of forests – an area three times the size of Germany – have been destroyed or degraded.

Since 2000 more than 104 million hectares of forests – an area three times the size of Germany – have been destroyed or degraded.


“Every four seconds, an area of the size of a football (soccer) field is lost,” said Christoph Thies of Greenpeace International.

The extent of this forest loss, which is clearly visible in satellite images taken in 2000 and 2013, is “absolutely appalling” and has a global impact, Thies told IPS, because forests play a crucial in regulating the climate.


The current level of deforestation is putting more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the world’s cars, trucks, ships and planes together, he said, adding that “governments must take urgent action” to protect intact forests by creating more protected areas, strengthening the rights of forest communities and other measures, including convincing lumber, furniture manufacturers and others to refuse to use products from virgin forests.

Greenpeace is one of several partners in the Intact Forest Landscapes initiative, along with the University of Maryland, World Resources Institute and WWF-Russia among others, that uses satellite imagery technology to determine the location and extent of the world’s last large undisturbed forests.

The new study found that half of forest loss from deforestation and degradation occurred in just three countries: Canada, Russia and Brazil. These countries are also home to about 65 percent of world’s remaining forest wilderness.

However, despite all the media attention on deforestation in the Amazon forest and the forests of Indonesia, it is Canada that has been leading the world in forest loss since 2000, accounting for 21 percent of global forest loss. By contrast, the much-better known deforestation in Indonesia has accounted for only four percent.

Brazil's Amazon forest - 2013. Credit_Courtesy of Global Forest Watch

Massive increases in oil sands and shale gas developments, as well as logging and road building, are the major cause of Canada’s forest loss, said Peter Lee of Global Forest Watch Canada, an independent Canadian NGO.

A big increase in forest fires is another cause of forest loss. Climate change has rapidly warmed northern Canada, drying out the boreal forests and bogs and making them more vulnerable to fires.

In Canada’s northern Alberta’s oil sands region, more than 12.5 million hectares of forest have been crisscrossed by roads, pipelines, power transmission lines and other infrastructure, Lee told IPS.

Canada’s oil sands and shale gas developments are expected to double and possibly triple in the next decade and “there’s little interest at the federal or provincial political level in conserving intact forest landscapes,” Lee added.

The world’s last remaining large undisturbed forests are where most of the planet’s remaining wild animals, birds, plants and other species live, Nigel Sizer, Global Director of the Forest Programme at the World Resources Institute, told a press conference.

Animals like Siberian tigers, orangutans and woodland caribou require large areas of forest wilderness, Sizer noted, and “losing these top species leads to a decline of entire forest ecosystems in subtle ways that are hard to measure.”

While forests can re-grow, this takes many decades, and in northern forests more than 100 years. However, if species go extinct or there are too few individuals left, it will take longer for a full forest ecosystem to recover – if ever.

In just 13 years, South America’s Paraguay converted an incredible 78 percent of its remaining forest wilderness mainly into large-scale soybean farms and rough pasture, the study found. Satellite images and maps on the new Global Forest Watch website offer see-it-with-your-own eyes images of Paraguay’s forests vanishing over time.

The images and data collected for the study are accessible via various tools on the website. They reveal that 25 percent of Europe’s largest remaining forest, located 900 km north of Moscow, has been chopped down to feed industrial logging operations. In the Congo, home of the world’s second largest tropical forest, 17 percent has been lost to logging, mining and road building. The Global Forest Watch website also shows details of huge areas of Congo forest licensed for future logging.

Deforestation starts with road building, often linked to logging and extractive industries, said Thies. In some countries, like Brazil and Paraguay, the prime reason is conversion to large-scale agriculture, usually for crops that will be exported.

The new data could help companies with sustainability commitments in determining which areas to avoid when sourcing commodities like timber, palm oil, beef and soy. Market-led efforts need to gain further support given the lax governance and enforcement in many of these forest regions, Thies said.

He called on the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – a voluntary certification programme that sets standards for forest management – to “also play a stronger role” and to improve those standards in order to better protect wilderness forests.

Without urgent action to curb deforestation, it is doubtful that any large-scale wild forest will remain by the end of this century, concluded Sizer.

First published on IPS

Overweight? Hungry? Blame ‘Hollow Food’

 

wheat harvest sml

Conventional agriculture produces “hollow food”, with low levels of nutrients and vitamins studies show

By Stephen Leahy

TORONTO, Canada, Mar 4, 2006 (Tierramérica)

(Originally published in 2006)

Organic foods protect children from the toxins in pesticides, while foods grown using modern, intensive agricultural techniques contain fewer nutrients and minerals than they did 60 years ago, according to two new scientific studies.

A U.S. research team from Emory University in Atlanta analysed urine samples from children ages three to 11 who ate only organic foods and found that they contained virtually no metabolites of two common pesticides, malathion and chlorpyrifos. However, once the children returned to eating conventionally grown foods, concentrations of these pesticide metabolites quickly climbed as high as 263 parts per billion, says the study published Feb. 21 (2006).

Organic crops are grown without the chemical pesticides and fertilisers that are common in intensive agriculture. There was a “dramatic and immediate protective effect” against the pesticides while consuming organically grown foods, said Chensheng Lu, an assistant professor at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.

These findings, in addition to the results of another study published in Britain earlier this month, have fueled the debate about the benefits of organically grown food as compared to conventional, mass-produced foods, involving academics, food and agro-industry executives and activists in the global arena.

According to the new British analysis of government nutrition data on meat and dairy products from the 1930s and from 2002, the mineral content of milk, cheese and beef declined as much as 70 percent in that period.

“These declines are alarming,” Ian Tokelove, spokesman for The Food Commission that published the results of the study, told Tierramérica.

The Commission is a British non-governmental organisation advocating for healthier, safer food. The research found that parmesan cheese had 70 percent less magnesium and calcium, beef steaks contained 55 percent less iron, chicken had 31 percent less calcium and 69 percent less iron, while milk also showed a large drop in iron along with a 21 percent decline in magnesium.

Copper, an important trace mineral (an essential nutrient that is consumed in tiny quantities), also declined 60 percent in meats and 90 percent in dairy products.

“It seems likely that intensive farming methods are responsible for this,” Tokelove said from his office in London.

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Drought and New Deserts by 2060: Most of Mexico, Central America and half of US

Projected drought and dry regions in 2060-2069

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 22, 2012 (Tierramérica)

Mexico and Central America look like they are covered in dried blood on maps projecting future soil moisture conditions.

The results from 19 different state-of-the-art climate models project extreme and persistent drought conditions (colored dark red-brown on the maps) for almost all of Mexico, the midwestern United States and most of Central America.

If climate change pushes the global average temperature to 2.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era levels, as many experts now expect, these regions will be under severe and permanent drought conditions.

Future conditions are projected to be worse than Mexico’s current drought or the U.S. Dust Bowl era of the 1930s that forced hundreds of thousands of people to migrate.

These are some of the conclusions of the study “Projections of Future Drought in the Continental United States and Mexico”, which was published in the December 2011 issue of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Hydrometeorology and has gone largely unnoticed.

“Drought conditions will prevail no matter what precipitation rates are in the future,” said co-author Michael Wehner, a climate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. government research centre in California.

“Even in regions where rainfall increases, the soils will get drier. This is a very robust finding,” Wehner told Tierramérica.

Without major reductions in carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, global temperatures will increase to at least 2.5 degrees of warming between 2050 and 2090, depending on rates of emissions of greenhouse gases, climate sensitivity and feedbacks. Continue reading

Cut Climate Damaging Emissions in Half and Double Food Production With Eco-Farming

45- 50% of global warming emissions from industrial agriculture

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Feb 8, 2011 (IPS)

Eco-farming could double food production in entire regions within 10 years while mitigating climate change, according to a new U.N. report released Tuesday in Geneva.

An urgent transformation to ‘eco-farming’ is the only way to end hunger and face the challenges of climate change and rural poverty, said Olivier De Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food, following the presentation of his annual report focusing on agroecology and the right to food to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“Agroecology mimics nature not industrial processes. It replaces the external inputs like fertiliser with knowledge of how a combination of plants, trees and animals can enhance productivity of the land,” De Schutter told IPS, stressing that, “Yields went up 214 percent in 44 projects in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa using agro-ecological farming techniques over a period of 3 to 10 years… far more than any GM [genetically modified] crop has ever done.”

Other recent scientific assessments have shown that small farmers in 57 countries using agro-ecological techniques obtained average yield increases of 80 percent. Africans’ average increases were 116 percent.

“Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilisers in boosting food production in regions where the hungry live,” De Schutter said. [Video Interviews with De Schutter]

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In Corrupt Global Food System, Farmland Is the New Gold and Africans the New Share-croppers

$ Billions Made Speculating on Food

“Africans have become share-croppers, exporting coffee, cotton, flowers and now food while going hungry”

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 13, 2011 (IPS)

Famine-hollowed farmers watch trucks loaded with grain grown on their ancestral lands heading for the nearest port, destined to fill richer bellies in foreign lands. This scene has become all too common since the 2008 food crisis.

[This is the first of a multi-part series investigating what is driving food prices higher]

Food prices are even higher now in many countries, sparking another cycle of hunger riots in the Middle East and South Asia last weekend. While bad weather gets the blame for rising prices, the instant price hikes of recent times are largely due to market speculation in a corrupt global food system.

The 2008 food crisis awoke much of the world’s investment community to the profitable reality that hungry people will do almost anything, even sell their own children, in order to eat. And with the global financial crisis, food and farmland became the “new gold” for some of the biggest investors, experts agree.

In 2010, wheat futures rose 47 percent, U.S. corn was up more than 50 percent, and soybeans rose 34 percent.

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On Wednesday, U.S.-based Cargill, the world’s largest agricultural commodities trader, announced a tripling of profits. The firm generated 1.49 billion dollars in three months between September and November 2010.

Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Bills pay a return of less than one percent. Continue reading

Food Prices Soar (again) – Governments Starved Ag Research of Funding for Last 20 Years

By Stephen Leahy

[New Article]

MONTPELLIER, France, Apr 14, 2010 (IPS)

How’s this for short-sighted:

A billion people go hungry every day, food prices have climbed 30 to 40 percent, climate change is reducing agricultural production – and for the past two decades, the world has slashed investments in publicly-funded agriculture until it is a pittance in most countries.

“Moral outrage is needed. We must abolish this… It can be done. It must be done,”Ismail Serageldin Website, Egypt and a former World Bank economist, told nearly 700 World Food Prize laureates, ministers, scientists and a few representatives from development and farmer organisations at the first Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) last month here in southern France.

“This is the launching pad to transform hunger in our time,” Serageldin concluded.

The “rocket” on the launching pad is a major transformation of the 500 million dollars of public funds for international agricultural research carried out by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an alliance comprising some 8,000 researchers in 100 countries.

For the past year, a global consultation process involving over 2,000 stakeholders from 200 countries has produced a draft plan for reform that promises to meet the needs of the world’s 500 million poor small farmers who feed the two billion poorest people.

Called ambitious and far-reaching by proponents, the “Montpellier Road Map” sets the priorities for “linking science and innovation to the needs of farmers and the rural poor”.

Critics say it resembles little more than a passionate shuffling of the status quo. As the French say like to say: “Plus ça change; plus c’est la même chose” (the more things change, the more they stay the same).
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Peak Soil: The Silent Global Crisis

30% of farmland can no longer grow food

By Stephen Leahy

(First published in the Earth Island Journal Spring 2008)

A harsh winter wind blew last night, and this morning the thin snow cover has turned into a rich chocolate brown. The dirt covering the snow comes from cornfields near my home that were ploughed following the harvest, a common practice in southern Ontario and in the corn-growing regions of the US Midwest.

A handful of this dirty snow melts quickly, leaving a thin, fine-grained wet mess. It doesn’t look like much, but the mucky sludge in my hand is the prerequisite for life on the planet.

“We are overlooking soil as the foundation of all life on Earth,” says Andres Arnalds, assistant director of the Icelandic Soil Conservation Service. Arnalds is an eloquent spokesperson for the unheralded emergency of soil erosion, a problem that is reducing global food production and water availability, and is responsible for an estimated 30 percent of the greenhouse gases emissions.

“Land degradation and desertification may be regarded as the silent crisis of the world, a genuine threat to the future of humankind.”

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