What springs to mind when you think of the Grand Canyon? The unblemished majesty of 6 million years of nature at work (and, of course, life-affirming sunsets), or grabbing an Orange Julius on the way to Banana Republic?
Unfortunately, that latter image is exactly what Confluence Partners, a Colorado-based environmental insurance firm, foresees for the future of one of our oldest and most cherished natural landmarks.
The Grand Canyon Escalade would sit at the junction between the Colorado River and Little Colorado River, and would include shops, a tramway, restaurants and all other manner of gaudy, touristy miscellany.
In defense of their proposed project, Confluence Partners have offered up such compelling arguments as “Are there really sacred sites (in the Grand Canyon)? Really?” and, in regards to rafting permits being granted by the National Park Service each year, “Where do 24,657 people go to party? Why the Confluence, of course!”
Here’s the proposal for the Grand Canyon Escalade:
Confluence Partners have argued that their project will help invigorate the local Navajo community, but members of the local population aren’t feeling the same vibe.
Save The Confluence, a group organized by Navajos exiled under the Bennett Freeze for almost 50 years, was formed with the express intent of keeping the Grand Canyon Escalade from becoming a reality.
Fortunately, at this point, Confluence Partners don’t seem to be gaining any momentum for their proposal. Let’s hope it stays that way.
A new study reveals that consumerism has led to a dramatic uptick in illegal ground clearing in the Amazon, and what’s worse is that we might be contributing to the problem without even knowing it.
The study, published by Washington D.C. non-profit organization Forest Trends, finds that from the start of the century until 2012, forty-nine percent of all tropical deforestation was down to illegal ground clearing to provide room and materials for commercial agriculture, something that has at least played a part in an increased overall level of tropical forest loss, reversing years of progress. What that means is things like clearing the ground for livestock rearing and feeding, planting for crops like soy and harvesting for palm oil, are all helping to undo the good work on which environmentalists and international governments have campaigned.
The report is the first of its kind to look at the process of illegal conversion for the purposes of sustaining the growing consumer demand in Europe and the U.S., and as a result carries some significant insights because, even though the disappearing of our rainforests has been a topic for several years, until now there has been little distinction made between legal and illegal ground clearing.
To that end, the report finds that about 70 percent of all soy that is currently on the international trade market was cultivated on cleared tropical ground. In addition, one-third of beef supply and almost all palm oil, which is used in products from peanut butter to some cosmetics, comes from tropical forests. While it’s important to stress the negative environmental impact of clearing any of our major rainforests, illegally cleared land can be even more harmful in some senses because there is no oversight or monitoring. With this in mind, the exact proportion of soy, beef, leather and palm oil that comes from illegally cleared land is hard to determine, but the research puts it at about 44 percent of palm oil, 20 percent of all soy and 14 percent of beef.
The impact of this isn’t just on the forests themselves, however. Obviously, the wildlife that are killed or displaced during ground clearing suffer, but in addition to that the report estimates that the illegal conversion of tropical forests specifically for large-scale commercial agricultural during the 2000-2012 period was responsible for an average of 1.47 gigtonnes of CO2 per year, most of which can be attributed to the goods exportation trade. That’s a sizable amount of the insulating gas that has been shown to contribute to the rise in global temperatures. Obviously, governments aren’t factoring this into their fossil fuel use or emission targets, but if they did it would put a significant dent in their figures.
The report finds that even in countries where commercial agriculture isn’t a main driving force behind illegal deforestation, that situation is rapidly changing and that could be something that will threaten more and more indigenous human populations soon too. While the researchers accept that domestically both the U.S. and the European Union have strict laws that ban illegal ground clearing, and that many global governments have actively sought to find solutions to curb the practice, they have not gone so far as to ban the sale of products that result from illegal ground clearing and that means there’s actually more monetary incentive for sustaining the practice and other regions getting involved to boot.
“At the moment EU is giving large amounts of money to these tropical countries to reduce deforestation while at the same time it is shooting itself in the foot by importing all these dodgy products from illegal clearances,” lead researcher Sam Lawson told BBC News. “It needs to close that vicious circle, it needs to stop importing these products as a first step.”
It’s clear from this report that only strong government action can help reduce the incentives behind the illegal ground clearing problem, and companies will have to commit to refusing to take ingredients like palm oil from illegally cleared sources, but how can we as consumers try to limit how much we are contributing to this vicious cycle?
Looking for domestically made or sustainable brands is one solution. For things like soy that can be fairly easy, with labels like RTRS soy or ProTerra certified soy being helpful and easy indicators. While there are some sustainable sources of palm oil, it’s health profile isn’t particularly good, so it may be that we want to avoid it as much as possible anyway. In terms of general strategies though, buying locally sourced produce will be beneficial, as well eschewing-mass produced furniture in favor of new items bought using sustainable local wood, or finding second-hand items instead of new.
For more ideas on how you can incorporate sustainable living into your day-to-day life, please click here.
Marianne Hougen-Moraga from Denmark explores in her short film Vanishing World—part of the Action4Climate video competition—how people from the remote Alaskan village of Newtok are directly affected by climate change. Their village is literally sinking and now they are starting to build America’s first climate-change refugee camp.
The film uses the native storytelling technique of stream of consciousness where members of the community share their fears of the changing land beneath their feet and the need to relocate.
Unfortunately, Alaska is not alone as many other communities are facing relocation due to climate change. Villages in Fiji are being forced to relocate because of rising seas. Last year there was a court case in New Zealand where an immigrant from the Pacific Island of Kiribati fought—and failed—for climate refugee status, arguing that sea level rises made it too dangerous to return home.
The World Bank painted a stark picture of our warming world in its Turn Down the Heat report last year. They warned that millions would be left trapped in poverty as temperatures rise, with two degree Celsius and four degrees Celsius of warming expected to put serious strain on agricultural production, water resources and coastal communities.
With more than 230 entries from 70 countries, the Action4Climate video competition clearly inspired young directors to share their climate change stories. To watch other Action4Climate videos, click here.