Tag Archives: forest ecology

Worst Food Additive Ever is in Half of All Foods We Eat and Its Production Produces Collateral destruction and misery

Worst Food Additive Ever? It’s in Half of All Foods We Eat and Its Production Destroys Rainforests and Enslaves Children | Food | AlterNet.

The production of this ingredient causes jaw-dropping amounts of deforestation (and with it, carbon emissions) and human rights abuses.
Join our mailing list:

Sign up to stay up to date on the latest Food headlines via email.

On August 10, police and security for the massive palm oil corporation Wilmar International (of which Archer Daniels Midland is the second largest shareholder) stormed a small, indigenous village on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. They came with bulldozers and guns, destroying up to 70 homes, evicting 82 families, and arresting 18 people. Then they blockaded the village, keeping the villagers in — and journalists out. (Wilmar claims it has done no wrong.)

The village, Suku Anak Dalam, was home to an indigenous group that observes their own traditional system of land rights on their ancestral land and, thus, lacks official legal titles to the land. This is common among indigenous peoples around the world — so common, in fact, that it is protected by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Indonesia, for the record, voted in favor of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. Yet the government routinely sells indigenous peoples’ ancestral land to corporations. Often the land sold is Indonesia’s lowland rainforest, a biologically rich area home to endangered species like the orangutan, Asian elephant, Sumatran rhinoceros, Sumatran tiger, and the plant Rafflesia arnoldii, which produces the world’s largest flower.

So why all this destruction? Chances are you’ll find the answer in your pantry. Or your refrigerator, your bathroom, or even under your sink. The palm oil industry is one of the largest drivers of deforestation in Indonesia. Palm oil and palm kernel oil, almost unheard of a decade or two ago, are now unbelievably found in half of all packaged foods in the grocery store (as well as body care and cleaning supplies). These oils, traditional in West Africa, now come overwhelmingly from Indonesia and Malaysia. They cause jawdropping amounts of deforestation (and with it, carbon emissions) and human rights abuses.

“The recipe for palm oil expansion is cheap land, cheap labor, and a corrupt government, and unfortunately Indonesia fits that bill,” says Ashley Schaeffer of Rainforest Action Network.

The African oil palm provides two different oils with different properties: palm oil and palm kernel oil. Palm oil is made from the fruit of the tree, and palm kernel oil comes from the seed, or “nut,” inside the fruit. You can find it on ingredient lists under a number of names, including palmitate, palmate, sodium laureth sulphate, sodium lauryl sulphate, glyceryl stearate, or stearic acid. Palm oil even turns up in so-called “natural,” “healthy,” or even “cruelty-free” products, like Earth Balance (vegan margarine) or Newman-O’s organic Oreo-like cookies. Palm oil is also used in “renewable” biofuels.

A hectare of land (2.47 acres) produces, on average, 3.7 metric tons of palm oil, 0.4 metric tons of palm kernel oil, and 0.6 tons of palm kernel cake. (Palm kernel cake is used as animal feed.) In 2009, Indonesia produced over 20.5 million metric tons, and Malaysia produced over 17.5 million metric tons. As of 2009, the U.S. was only the seventh largest importer of palm oil in the world, but as the second largest importer of palm kernel oil, it ranks third in the world as a driver of deforestation for palm oil plantations.

Indonesia has lost 46 percent of its forests since 1950, and the forests have recently disappeared at a rate of about 1.5 million hectares (an area larger than the state of Connecticut) per year. Of the 103.3 million hectares of remaining forests in 2000, only 88.2 million remained in 2009. At that time, an estimated 7.3 million hectares of oil palm plantations were already established, mostly on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Indonesia plans to continue the palm oil expansion, hoping to produce an additional 8.3 million metric tons by 2015 — this means a 71 percent expansion in area devoted to palm oil in the coming years.

At stake are not only endangered species and human lives, but carbon emissions. One of the ecosystems at risk is Indonesia’s peat swamps, where soil contains an astounding 65 percent organic matter. (Most soils contain only two to 10 percent organic matter.) Laurel Sutherlin of Rainforest Action Network describes the draining and often burning of these peat swamps as “a carbon bomb.” Destruction of its peat swamps as well as its rainforests makes Indonesia the world’s third largest carbon emitter after the U.S. and China.

Among the horror stories coming out of Southeast Asian palm oil plantations are accounts of child slave labor. Ferdi and Volario, ages 14 and 21, respectively, were each met by representatives of the Malaysian company Kuala Lampur Kepong in their North Sumatra villages. They were offered high-paying jobs with good working conditions, and they jumped at the opportunity. According to an account by Rainforest Action Network: “The two worked grueling hours each day spraying oil palm trees with toxic chemical fertilizers, without any protection to shield their hands, face or lungs. After work, Ferdi and Volario were forced inside the camp where they’d stay overnight under lock and key, guarded by security. If they had to use the bathroom, they’d do their best to hold it until morning or relieve themselves in plastic bags or shoes.” They escaped after two months and were never paid for their work.

What is the industry doing about such horrific claims? It has established the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Kuala Lampur Kepong, Wilmar International, and Archer Daniels Midland are all members, and so are their customers, Cargill, Nestlé and Unilever, as well as environmental groups like the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International. But, according to Sutherlin, membership in RSPO means nothing — other than that an organization paid its dues. “That’s the first level of greenwash,” says Sutherlin.

RSPO certifies some products and companies, and Sutherlin says that does have some meaning, but leaves major loopholes open. For example, there are no carbon or climate standards, and there have been problems with the implementation of social safeguards. “It’s been a spotty record about their ability to enforce the standards for how people are treated and how communities are affected,” notes Sutherlin. Yet, he says, RSPO is “the best game in town.”

Rather than simply relying on RSPO’s certification, Rainforest Action Network has focused its campaign on the U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill, which has a hand in fully 25 percent of palm oil on the global market. Rainforest Action Network is asking Cargill to sign on to a set of social and environmental safeguards and to provide public transparency on its palm oil operations. If Cargill cleans up its act, perhaps it will help put pressure on other major multinationals like Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and Nestlé, which also source palm oil from unethical suppliers like Wilmar International.

Journalists have also criticized environmental groups for “cozy relationships with corporate eco-nasties.” The World Wildlife Fund has come under attack for its partnership with Wilmar, the corporation that attacked a Sumatran village. Its involvement in RSPO serves as a reminder of the accusations in a 2010 Nation article, which claimed that “many of the green organizations meant to be leading the fight are busy shoveling up hard cash from the world’s worst polluters–and burying science-based environmentalism in return.” (WWF says it received no payment from Wilmar in this particular case.)

The ugly issue of palm oil even touches the beloved American icon, the Girl Scout cookie. When Girl Scouts Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen began a project to save the orangutan for their Bronze Awards, they discovered the link between habitat loss and palm oil. Then they looked at a box of Girl Scout cookies and found palm oil on the list of ingredients. The two 11-year-olds — who are now ages 15 and 16 — began a campaign to get the Girl Scouts to remove palm oil from its cookies.

It took five years to get a response from the supposedly wholesome Girl Scouts USA (whose 2012 slogan is “Forever Green“). While the organization ignored its own members for several years, it was unable to ignore the coverage the girls received from Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and several major TV networks. Once the story was so well-covered by the media, Girl Scouts USA responded, promising it would try to move to a sustainable source of palm oil by 2015. In the meantime, it would continue buying palm oil that could have come from deforested lands or plantations that use child slave labor, but would also buy GreenPalm certificates, which fund a price premium that goes to producers following RSPO’s best practice guidelines.

So what should consumers do? For the time being, avoiding products containing palm oil is probably your best bet. Since palm oil is so ubiquitous this will likely mean opting to buy fewer processed foods overall. Don’t forget to check your beauty and cleaning products, too. In a handful of cases, such as Dr. Bronner’s soaps, palm oil comes from fair trade, organic sources. But this is hardly the norm, and with the immense amount of palm oil used in the U.S., it’s unlikely that sustainable sources could cover all of the current demand.

Streaming Movie Split (2017) Online

Poster Movie Split 2017

Split (2017) HD

Director : M. Night Shyamalan.
Writer : M. Night Shyamalan.
Producer : Mark Bienstock, Jason Blum, M. Night Shyamalan.
Release : January 19, 2017
Country : United States of America.
Production Company : Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Blinding Edge Pictures.
Language : English.
Runtime : 117 min.
Genre : Horror, Thriller.

Movie ‘Split’ was released in January 19, 2017 in genre Horror. M. Night Shyamalan was directed this movie and starring by James McAvoy. This movie tell story about Though Kevin has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher, there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey, Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him—as well as everyone around him—as the walls between his compartments shatter apart.

Streaming Movie Split (2017) Online

Do not miss to Watch movie Split (2017) Online for free with your family. only 2 step you can Watch or download this movie with high quality video. Come and join us! because very much movie can you watch free streaming.

Download Full Movie Split (2017)

Incoming search term :

film Split 2017 streaming, Split 2017 English Full Episodes Free Download, Split 2017 Full Episode, film Split trailer, Watch Split 2017 Online Viooz, live streaming film Split, Split 2017 English Full Episodes Watch Online, Split 2017 movie, watch full Split movie online, movie Split streaming, Split 2017 Episodes Watch Online, Split 2017 film trailer, Watch Split 2017 Online Free putlocker, Split 2017 Online Free Megashare, Split 2017 English Full Episodes Download, Watch Split 2017 Online Free, live streaming film Split 2017 online, Split 2017 For Free online, Split 2017 English Episodes Free Watch Online, Split 2017 English Episodes, movie Split 2017 trailer, Watch Split 2017 Online Putlocker, trailer movie Split 2017, Split 2017 Full Episodes Online, Split 2017 For Free Online, Split 2017 HD Full Episodes Online, Split 2017 streaming, Split movie streaming, Split film, Split 2017 Full Episodes Watch Online, download full film Split 2017, watch movie Split 2017 now, Watch Split 2017 Online Free Putlocker, Watch Split 2017 Online Megashare, Split 2017 English Full Episodes Online Free Download, Watch Split 2017 Online Free Viooz, Split 2017 English Episode, watch Split 2017 film now, film Split 2017 download, watch full Split film, watch full movie Split 2017 online, Watch Split 2017 Online Free megashare, Split 2017 Episodes Online, Split 2017 Watch Online, trailer film Split 2017, watch full film Split, Split 2017 HD English Full Episodes Download,

China's new forests aren't as green as they seem

China’s new forests aren’t as green as they seem : Nature News.

Impressive reports of increased forest cover mask a focus on non-native tree crops that could damage the ecosystem, says Jianchu Xu.


In the United Nations’ 2011 International Year of Forests, China is heralded as a superstar. Almost single-handedly, the country has halted long-term forest loss across Asia, and even turned it into a net gain. Since the 1990s, China has planted more than 4 million hectares of new forest each year.

Earlier this month, President Hu Jintao pledged that China would do even more. He told a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Beijing that the nation would increase its total area of forest by 40 million hectares over the next decade. China, he said, is ready to make new contributions to green, sustainable growth.

It sounds impressive, but we risk failing to see the wood for the trees. In China, ‘forest’ includes uncut primary forest, regenerating natural forest and monoculture plantations of non-native trees. The last of these accounts for most of the ‘improvement’ in forest cover.

The State Forestry Administration has claimed that total forest cover in China reached 20.36% in 2008. Most of this results from the increase in tree crops such as fruit trees, rubber and eucalyptus, not recovery of natural forest, yet Chinese data do not record this shift. The change threatens ecosystem services, particularly watershed protection and biodiversity conservation.

“I have seen massive tree plantations on the Tibetan Plateau, in areas where forests never grew.”

Exotic tree species are being planted in arid and semi-arid conditions, where perennial grasses with their extensive root systems would be better protectors of topsoil. Plantation monocultures harbour little diversity; they provide almost no habitat for the country’s many threatened forest species. Plantations generate less leaf litter and other organic inputs than native forests, so soil fauna and flora decrease, and groundwater depletion can be exacerbated by deep-rooted non-native trees that use more water than native species. Afforestation in water-stressed regions might provide wind-breaks, and tree plantations offer some carbon storage. But these benefits come at a high cost to other ecological functions.

Why the intense focus on forest cover? China has long promoted the planting of tree crops. Since 1999, the Grain for Green programme has resulted in some 22 million hectares of new trees on sloping farmland. The programme began after the 1998 Yangtze River floods, which the government blamed on loss of tree cover, although reductions in riparian buffers and soil infiltration capacity probably also had a major role.

Since 2008, forest tenure reform has encouraged the privatization of former collective forests, with more than 100 million hectares affected. Privatization can benefit local economies. But in the absence of any management framework, it has also promoted conversion of natural forests into plantations: smallholders often fell natural forests for immediate income, then plant monoculture tree crops for long-term investment.

Although the Chinese government has shown that it understands environmental fragility, its scientific and policy guidelines do not adequately address the country’s diversity of landscapes and ecosystems. I have seen massive tree plantations on the Tibetan Plateau, in areas where forests never grew before. Local governments face the need to respond to the national imperative for increased forest cover by planting fast-growing species, while also generating the biggest local economic benefits possible. This explains why unsuitable species such as aspens are planted in north China, whereas eucalyptus and rubber trees proliferate in the south.

Perhaps the International Year of Forests can help decision-makers to focus on the various meanings of ‘forest’, and the trade-offs each type entails. Natural recovery is still the best way to restore damaged forests, but restoration requires targeted involvement using the best science.

Afforestation can restore ecosystem function only if the right species are planted in the right place. Further studies are needed on how the mix of species affects ecosystem functions. Sloping lands, for example, benefit from perennial root systems and associated soil microfauna, but trees are not the only, or necessarily the best, way to establish these root systems.

China’s forestry mandate should focus on enhancing environmental services, but policy-makers cannot ignore rural livelihoods. Technical know-how should be provided to local foresters and farmers. Doing away with narrow, one-size-fits-all management targets would also help. The country, with its state-managed market economy, can afford direct payments for forest ecosystem services, but they should only be offered for natural or regenerated forests with proven biological or ecological value.

As an ecologist and agroforestry practitioner, I would like to see China establish parallel forest-management programmes for recovery and restoration of natural forests, and for incorporating working trees into farmlands. Each should include best practices from ecosystem science; a clear definition of tree crop plantations for timber or non-timber products would clarify the separate systems. A dual strategy would require increased collaboration throughout China’s land-management ministries, well supported by interdisciplinary research. But it could ensure that China’s massive investment in forests provides maximum benefits, to both local livelihood and the environment. 

Jianchu Xu is a senior scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre and a professor at the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences.


Seattle scientists snuff out wildfire myths

CultureLab: Seattle scientists snuff out wildfire myths.

Nidhi Subbaraman, contributor


Arizona is prone to wildfires (Image: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/Rex Features)

This summer, forest fires swept through parts of Arizona and New Mexico scorching property and vast expanses of ecosystems and resulting in the evacuation of the enormous Los Alamos National Laboratory. Many fear that more extreme weather may mean wild fires will only become more common in coming years. So what can we do about it?

Last week, scientists at the Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory in Seattle, Washington, set out to answer that question – and to smoke out some common myths about forest fires, and their control and prevention.

In a discussion at the lab in Seattle’s Fremont neighbourhood, scientists who recently returned from studying the wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico started by clarifying just how common these fires are – and how infrequently they make headlines. In 98 per cent of cases wildfires quietly burn out and go largely unnoticed by the public, said fire and environment researcher David Peterson. Small fires seldom make the news or draw much scientific interest. But it’s these fires that unexpected weather can amplify until they become massive wildfires that need thousands of fire fighters and dozens of air tanker planes to control.

And while there’s no question that wildfire fighters and smoke jumpers make a huge difference in controlling fires, when it comes to actually dousing the flames, the researchers explained that it’s really up to the elements. “Suppressing” a big wildfire – a costly business – is only really effective to guide its path until rain finally snuffs it out. A more effective method for fighting wildfires is to treat fire-prone land before a blaze begins, they argued.

For example, people who live in areas where forest fires are common have figured out the benefits of periodically clearing their land with controlled burns. In rotation, once every other year or so, they burn down the vegetation on the land, and start the season with a fresh planting. This, said Brian Potter, who works on the atmospheric interaction of fire, has come to be accepted scientifically as an effective way of preventing against big wildfire breakouts – if planned and managed correctly.

But controlled burning continues to be a subject of hot debate because it comes at a cost. Smoke from such fires is hard to control, and a fire burning in one location could send its smoke downwind to another location, exposing people to harmful health effects.

The other issue of course is the risk that the fire could get out of hand. The 1980 Mack Lake fire in Michigan, for example, started as a prescribed burn. However, an unexpected turn in weather turned it into a wildfire which spread and claimed several lives. “The first thing it did was burn up the burn boss’s house on the edge of the lake,” Potter said.

“We’ve got past the scientific debate of whether you need to sometimes use fire to control and ecosystem,” Potter, said. “But we’ve not moved past the social debate of when it is acceptable.”

A second major way that land and wooded areas can be maintained is by periodically removing the shrubbery and small plant matter from the base of a wooded forest. “Thinning” the growth in this way, said Morris Johnson, who studies fire ecology, reduces the severity of a forest fire if it were to sweep through the area. Unfortunately, implementing such a strategy would require a shift in the funding and policy focus of current controllers. “The initial cost of removing and thinning is going to be a lot,” Morris conceded. “But it’s cheaper to maintain.”

As to the question of climate change, ongoing research is hinting at a link between hot and dry, and cool and wet spells, with the location and severity of big forest fire breakouts. “I will argue this with a lot of my scientific colleagues till we’re both blue in the face,” Peterson said, “But for the most part I believe that fire is dependent on climate.”

This means that if temperatures get hotter as models estimate, the severity of forest wildfires would increase – and the resources dedicated to curbing the damage they cause would swell proportionately. It’s one of the arguments, Peter says, for re-evaluating policy to shift funding and focus towards wildfire prevention: to better equip us to deal with bigger, badder fires of the future.

Planting forests won't stop global warming

Planting forests won’t stop global warming – environment – 19 June 2011 – New Scientist.

The UN is failing to accurately measure the global climate benefits of preserving forests.

As well as providing homes for many species, trees store carbon dioxide that would otherwise warm the planet. With this in mind, the UN set up the REDD programme (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) in 2008, which will pay poorer countries to preserve their forests based on how much carbon dioxide they store.

What this fails to take into account is that forests also alter temperature in other ways. Those close to the poles are dark, and so absorb more sunlight than croplands would. But in the tropics, more water evaporates from forests than from unforested land, so they cool their surroundings.

Cool forests

To get a fuller picture, Vivek Arora of Environment Canada and the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and Alvaro Montenegro of St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, used a computer model to estimate the overall effect of reforesting.

They used what they admit are “somewhat extreme” scenarios in which half or all of the world’s croplands have been converted to forests by 2060. Foresting all or half the world’s cropland reduced global temperatures in 2100 by 0.45 °C and 0.25 °C respectively.

Arora reckons that no more than 10 to 15 per cent of existing cropland is likely to be forested, so the effects will be even smaller. “The overall temperature benefits of any realistic afforestation efforts are expected to be marginal,” he says.

Tropical bounty

But while the overall effect of forests is small, not all forests are equal. When Arora and Montenegro looked at the details of their results, they found that a given area of tropical forest is around three times as effective at reducing warming as the same area of high-latitude forest.

That’s because tropical forests are so good at cooling their surroundings by increasing the evaporation of water. Higher latitude forests are less effective at this because they absorb so much sunlight.

Yet REDD assesses forests solely on the amount of carbon they trap, largely because measuring changes to evaporation and reflectivity is difficult. Its method assumes that estimating the carbon drawdown gives a reasonable estimate of the overall effect on temperatures, and treats low and high-latitude forests equally. The new study suggests that assumption is wrong.

“The carbon metric undervalues tropical forests,” says Richard Betts of the Met Office in Exeter, UK. “We have to consider the other effects of land cover change.”

Journal reference: Nature Geoscience, DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1182 


Higher density means world forests are capturing more carbon

Higher density means world forests are capturing more carbon.


ScienceDaily (June 6, 2011) — Forests in many regions are becoming larger carbon sinks thanks to higher density, U.S. and European researchers say in a new report.

In Europe and North America, increased density significantly raised carbon storage despite little or no expansion of forest area, according to the study, led by Aapo Rautiainen of the University of Helsinki, Finland, and published in the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE.

Even in the South American nations studied, more density helped maintain regional carbon levels in the face of deforestation.

The researchers analyzed information from 68 nations, which together account for 72 percent of the world’s forested land and 68 percent of reported carbon mass. They conclude that managing forests for timber growth and density offers a way to increase stored carbon, even with little or no expansion of forest area.

“In 2004 emissions and removals of carbon dioxide from land use, land-use change and forestry comprised about one fifth of total emissions. Tempering the fifth by slowing or reversing the loss of carbon in forests would be a worthwhile mitigation. The great role of density means that not only conservation of forest area but also managing denser, healthier forests can mitigate carbon emission,” says Rautiainen.

Co-author Paul E. Waggoner, a forestry expert with Connecticut’s Agricultural Experiment Station, says remote sensing by satellites of the world’s forest area brings access to remote places and a uniform method. “However, to speak of carbon, we must look beyond measurements of area and apply forestry methods traditionally used to measure timber volumes.”

“Forests are like cities — they can grow both by spreading and by becoming denser,” says co-author Iddo Wernick of The Rockefeller University’s Program for the Human Environment.

The authors say most regions and almost all temperate nations have stopped losing forest and the study’s findings constitute a new signal of what co-author Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller calls “The Great Reversal” under way in global forests after centuries of loss and decline. “Opportunities to absorb carbon and restore the world’s forests can come through increasing density or area or both.”

To examine how changing forest area and density affect timber volume and carbon, the study team first focused on the United States, where the U.S. Forest Service has conducted a continuing inventory of forest area, timberland area and growing stock since 1953.

They found that while U.S. timberland area grew only 1 percent between 1953 and 2007, the combined national volume of growing stock increased by an impressive 51 percent. National forest density increased substantially.

For an international perspective, the research team examined the 2010 Global Forest Resources Assessment compiled by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which provides consistent figures for the years 1990 to 2010.

The data reveal uncorrelated changes of forest area and density. Countries in Africa and South America, which lost about 10 percent of their forest area over the two decades, lost somewhat less carbon, indicating a small rise in forest density.

In Asia during the second decade of the study period, density rose in 10 of the region’s 21 countries. Indonesia’s major loss of density and sequestered carbon, however, offset any gain in carbon storage in other Asian nations.

Europe, like the U.S., demonstrated substantial density gains, adding carbon well in excess of the estimated carbon absorbed by the larger forested area.

Says study co-author Pekka Kauppi, of the University of Helsinki, Finland, “With so much bad news available on World Environment Day, we are pleased to report that, of 68 nations studied, forest area is expanding in 45 and density is also increasing in 45. Changing area and density combined had a positive impact on the carbon stock in 51 countries.”

VALERIE: SUPER USEFUL article on climate-related forest death

t r u t h o u t | US Climate Bill Is Dead While So Much Life on Our Earth Continues to Perish.

Written by an Indian dude living in Santa Fe!

Extensive, useful stats on pinon forests, which are much older than we thought…

by: Subhankar Banerjee  |  Climate StoryTellers | Op-Ed

[I dedicate this story to my wife Nora who showed me a Curve–billed Thrasher’s nest on a cholla cactus, the first I had ever seen, and walked with me on all the paths that made this story possible.]

Imagine you live in New York City, and one fine morning you awake to the realization that 90 percent of all the buildings that were more than five stories tall have been destroyed. You will hardly have the words to talk about this devastation, but I’m sure you will walk around the rubble to make sense of it all.

Something similar has happened in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I currently live. Between 2001 and 2005, aerial surveys were conducted over 6.4 million acres of the state. Some 816,000 affected acres were mapped and it was found that during this short period Ips confusus, a tiny bark beetle, had killed 54.5 million of New Mexico’s state tree, the piñon. In many areas of northern New Mexico, including Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Española, and Taos, 90 percent of mature piñons are now dead.

Under normal climate conditions, bark beetles live in harmony with their environment, laying their eggs in dead or weakened trees. However, when healthy trees become stressed from severe and sustained drought, they become objects of attack: the beetles drill into their bark, laying eggs along the way, and killing their host. Milder winter temperatures have ensured more of them survive the winter, and warmer summer temperatures have reduced the life cycle duration of the beetles from two to one year, and subsequently their numbers have exploded in recent years.

In March 2006, my then–future wife Nora and I rented a house in Eldorado, a suburban community about 15 miles southeast of Santa Fe. Each day as I drove from our home to the nearby city, all along the way on both sides of the road I’d see large areas of grey–brown (dead piñons) in the midst of green (live junipers).

During my childhood in India, I was fascinated by the detective stories of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda series. Because of the forest devastation I witnessed daily, I took on the role of a self–assigned visual detective of a geographic region bound by a 5–mile radius around our home. I walked again and again the same three paths, each no more than 2 miles long.

As I repeated my walks, I gradually began to realize that the environment around our home in the desert is perhaps as biodiverse as the arctic, where I have been taking photographs for the past decade. In both regions, one far and one near, I am attempting to address two simple things: home and food that land provides to humans as well as to numerous other species with whom we share this earth.

I’ll share with you a few experiences and a little bit of what I learned from these walks.

From a distance I see a large dead piñon with a canopy that spreads more than 20 feet. I can determine from the canopy size that the tree was more than 600 years old when it died. Piñons take nearly 300 years to mature and can live up to 1,000 years.

As I get closer to the dead tree, I notice the damaged skin with many protrusions that look like soft yellow globs or lines. Such skin is visual evidence that the tree did not die a normal death, but instead put up a fight against beetles by sending out sap to drown them in resin. In the end the tree lost, as the number of beetles the tree was fighting was far too many. I’ve never seen a bark beetle, whose size is no bigger than a grain of rice, and I doubt you’ll see one either, but if you look closely at the skin of one of these dead piñons you will know that the beetles were here and that the tree fought hard.

Occasionally I see a beautiful northern flicker pecking away at a dead tree trunk, either building a nest or looking for food – insects that have come to break down the dead tree. In the process, the flicker will create perfectly circular holes. These cavities will become possible homes for gorgeous western and mountain bluebirds. Even after death these dead piñons provide home and food for many species.

On my walks I also come across areas that resemble graveyards, where every piñon in immediate sight is dead. But I continue to see birds resting on the branches of these dead trees. And when I wait patiently, sometimes I am rewarded with the sight of a tiny black–chinned hummingbird, which weighs less than 1/2 ounce, on top of a 20–foot–high dead piñon as it catches its breath briefly before buzzing off to feed on a cluster of bright–orange Indian paintbrush.

Piñon trees produce protein–rich nuts once every four to seven years. Nut eaters like Piñon Jays critically depend on piñon nuts for sustenance, but they also serve a very important role in the regeneration of piñon woods. A typical flock of 50 to 500 birds can cache more than 4 million piñon seeds in a good year in New Mexico, and uneaten seeds result in new trees.

For Native American communities of the desert southwest, piñon tree has been of immense cultural, spiritual, and economic importance for many millenia. The nut is extensively harvested throughout its range. It has been a staple for a long time and continues to be eaten and used in cooking today.

This is not the first time that piñon forests have been destroyed. It has been suggested that the ancient Pueblo people of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico overharvested the piñon–juniper woodlands around their community to support the growing need of timber for fuel and building materials. In the process they deforested woodlands that eventually contributed to their abandoning the magnificent community they had built. Even more extensive devastation occurred during the late nineteenth and throughout the twentieth century, when vast areas of piñon woodlands were deforested to support cattle ranching, which indigenous communities and others regard as a major act of ecocultural vandalism.

According to a fascinating book, Ancient Piñon-Juniper Woodlands: A Natural History of Mesa Verde Country, biologists have recently begun to define the piñon–juniper woodland as an old–growth forest. This ecosystem supports an incredible diversity of wildlife, including 250 bird species (50 percent of all bird species west of Mississippi and more than a quarter of bird species in the U.S. and Canada), 74 species of mammals, 17 species of bats, 10 amphibian species, and 27 species of reptiles. Sadly, junipers are also dying (in lesser numbers so far) from extreme heat and drought. When I started my walks, I did not realize that there existed an old–growth forest in the New Mexican desert.

Every time I call my mom in India she complains about how hot this summer has been. This year we had the hottest first six months globally since recording began in 1880. In Santa Fe, we broke the June high temperature record with a 100oF (average high is 83oF), the July record with another 100oF (average high is 86oF), and with 95oF already we’ve tied the August record (average high is 83oF).

So it is no surprise that many of our remaining live piñons are again oozing soft yellow pitches. As it happens, these piñons were blooming last year and now they have beautiful green cones that will mature with nuts. These piñons are fighting–and–fruiting right now for their survival but they are infected and will die.

Even reforestation is taking on a different meaning in the twenty–first century. Young piñon trees have little chance of surviving extreme heat and drought. Each time I drive on Cerrillos Road to get to Interstate 25, I see a line of recently planted piñons, but some of the young trees are already dead, and I surmise the others might be infected.

If we lose our remaining piñons in the coming decades due to global warming, how would we then talk about the tree that has been ecoculturally most significant for New Mexico and its Native American communities for thousands of years?

Forests Are Dying Across the American West and All Over the World

In 2004, Michelle Nijhuis reported in High Country News that several species of bark beetles were ravaging forests all across the American West. The black spruce, white spruce, ponderosa pine, lodglepole pine, whitebark pine, and piñon have all been devastated by recent bark beetles epidemic. Scientists now suspect that by killing our forests, these beetles are also altering the local weather patterns and air quality.

Earlier this year, the U.S. senate had scheduled a hearing on the bark beetle epidemic, but, angered by the passage of the healthcare bill, Senate Republicans canceled the hearing on March 23. The hearing was finally held on April 21. Senator Mark Udall (Democrat-Colorado), co–sponsor of the National Forest Insect and Disease Emergency Act, wrote in his senate blog, “The infestation is a critical public health and safety issue for the people of Colorado and has been called the worst natural disaster our region has seen.” The bill names twelve states affected by the epidemic: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. This list should also include Alaska, where spruce bark beetles have destroyed very large areas of spruce forests, some of which I saw during my time there.

The hearing mainly focused on offering tens of millions of dollars of federal assistance to remove dead trees from affected areas to avoid potential forest fire damage. Ecologist Dominik Kulakowski, who testified, thought it was an unproductive approach and said that if the government focuses on trying “to make a wholesale modification of forest structure over large landscapes,” it could be ecologically damaging.

Was the hearing a case of destroy and then clean up – a common practice in our now global consumerist culture?

In March, Jim Robbins reported in Yale Environment 360 that global warming is killing forests across the American West as well as in many parts of the world. So I asked my colleagues for local observations.

In 2006, I spent time in Old Crow, a Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Arctic community in northern Yukon, Canada. At that time I knew nothing about the forest death that was happening in the southern Yukon. In a recent email to me, Roger Brown, the Forestry and Environmental Manager of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, wrote, “Canada’s largest ever documented spruce bark beetle outbreak began 18 years ago and is continuing to affect our forests in the southwestern Yukon. Approximately 380,000 hectares of our white spruce dominated forests have been affected, with almost 100 percent mortality of the forest canopy in some areas. Our oral history research has suggested there is no traditional knowledge that speaks about such extensive tree deaths in the past.”

In early June, as United Nations climate negotiators were wrapping up their unsuccessful meeting in Bonn, Germany, Anne-Marie Melster, founder and co-director of ARTPORT, wrote from Valencia, “Here in Spain, at the Mediterranean coast, the picudo rojo (red palm weevil) is attacking and killing tens of thousands of palm trees.”

About the same time, Ananda Banerjee, a conservation journalist from New Delhi, emailed me. “The sal forest in north-central India is home to the endangered tiger,” he said. “In the last few years there has been wide spread destruction and felling of infected sal trees, from the attack of a pest beetle called the sal borer. We have around 1,10,000 sq. km area of sal forest in India, but the green cover is gradually depleting due to this pest and due to illegal harvest of sal as timber.”

If you are interested in a broad scientific understanding of forest deaths from global warming, you can read an article published earlier this year in Forest Ecology and Management. It is worth noting the names of countries listed in the article with forest mortality data that have been recorded since 1970:

Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Uganda, USA, and Zimbabwe

Global warming skeptics would point to the fact that trees have died in the past from insect outbreaks and droughts, and so this is part of a natural climate cycle. But this time around something is very different: Forests are dying simultaneously in many places around the world in all forest types, and the intensity and rapidity with which they are dying in some places is of epic proportions.

As I started thinking about our dead forests, I wondered: Do we really need another story of global warming devastation? Haven’t we heard enough about melting glaciers and icebergs, retreating sea ice and disappearing polar bears? Then something tugged on my shoulder: Are we not to mourn the deaths of so many trees? But we mourn that which we knew and cared for. We did not know these trees. My hope has been to introduce to you the trees as ecological beings beyond their usual association as board–feet–for–lumber.

Hundreds of millions of trees have recently died and many more hundreds of millions will soon be dying. Now think of all the other lives, including birds and animals, that depended on those trees. The number of these must be in the tens of billions. What happened to them and how do we talk about that which we can’t see and will never know? This massive loss must be considered a catastrophic global warming event.

Our “Carbon Sinks” Are Becoming “Carbon Sources”

Consider for a moment the top two carbon sinks of our planet. Oceans absorb more than 25 percent of the CO2 humans put in the air, and forests absorb almost the same amount. By doing so, our forests and oceans together make living possible on this earth for life as we know it now. All of that is changing rapidly and for the worse.

Didn’t we learn as kids in school that CO2 in the atmosphere is good for trees because it acts as a fertilizer and helps them grow? Increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere from industrialization indeed may have aided more trees to grow in the past century. But such short–term gain has already faded away and turned into disaster. All three of the largest forests of the world are rapidly losing their carbon sink capacities.

The Siberian taiga is the largest continuous stretch of forested land on earth. It extends from the Urals in the west to the Kamchatka peninsula in the Russian Far East. Ernst–Detlef Schulze of the Max–Planck–Institute for Biogeochemistry has studied this taiga for 30 years. He calls it “Europe’s green lungs,” as these trees soak up much of the CO2 emitted by European smokestacks and automobiles farther west. Long stretches of extreme droughts have resulted in unprecedented forest fires that destroyed vast swathes of the taiga. Major deforestation is also happening there to fuel the need of (now) emerged economies such as China. And the fir sawyer beetle, larch bark beetle, and Siberian moth have also damaged large areas of the taiga.

This year Russia is experiencing the hottest summer ever, which has resulted in deadly forest fires with smokes over Moscow that made international headlines. Boreal forests of eastern Siberia are also ablaze with intense fires. Scientists have recently detected a poisonous ring around the planet created by an enormous cloud of pollutants that are being released by raging forest fires in central Russia, Siberia, and Canada.

In November 2007, I went to the Sakha Republic of Siberia with Inupiat hunter and conservationist Robert Thompson from Arctic Alaska. While camping with the Even reindeer herders in the Verkhoyansk Range, the coldest inhabited place on earth, we experienced temperatures of minus 65oF (without wind–chill) and were told that January temperature dip to minus 90oF. We also spent time with the Yukaghir community at Nelemnoye along the Kolyma River, made infamous by Stalin’s Gulag camps. We learned that even in such a cold place, the Siberian permafrost is melting rapidly during the summer months due to warming.

In Siberia, with the destruction of taiga and thawing of permafrost, the ghosts–of–gulags are ready to strike back at us with a deadly carbon bomb that we know little about.

The North American boreal forest stretches across U.S. and Canada from Alaska in the west to Newfoundland in the east, making it the second largest continuous forested ecosystem on earth. It is now confirmed that a lodgepole pine forest in British Columbia, Canada, that died from bark beetles outbreak has transformed from being a small net carbon sink to being a large net carbon source. We can probably say the same for all the other bark beetles infecting dying forests across the west.

The Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical forest on earth and stretches across nine countries – Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. I’ve never been to the Amazon, but I’m learning that forest fires, droughts, and deforestation have already destroyed very large areas of this forest. The Amazon is in great trouble: Scientists are predicting that a 4oC temperature rise would kill 85 percent of the Amazon. With climate inaction so far, we are heading rapidly toward such a reality.

The news is equally bad for our oceans, which are now struggling to keep up with the rising CO2 emissions from human activities. By absorbing all that CO2 the oceans are becoming horrendously acidic, threatening the survival of marine life. To make matters worse, methane that is 20 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas is being released in enormous quantities from some of our oceans, including the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, due to thawing of subsea permafrost there, and the Gulf of Mexico, due to BP’s unforgiveable spill. Two studies have shown methane concentrations in some areas of the gulf reached 100,000 times higher than normal with few hot spots close to a million times higher. And recently we learned that 40 percent of the world’s phytoplankton died in the last 60 years due to global warming, raising the question, “Are Our Oceans Dying?

Our natural carbon sinks are losing the battle with global warming, increasing human CO2 emissions, and extreme oil–and–gas drilling. Every citizen of our planet should be asking the question: Who or what will capture the carbon that we continue to emit? And every government ought to address this question as the most urgent priority if we are to ensure life on Earth.

Our New Climate Movement

Last month the U.S. Senate finally put an end to the climate bill. Since then several opinion pieces have been published, including articles in Yale Environment 360, Grist, TomDispatch, The Nation, and The Hill. Some of these point out why the U.S. climate movement failed, while others call for a new movement.

Global warming is a crisis: for all lands, for all oceans, for all rivers, for all forests, for all humans, for all birds, for all mammals, for all little creatures that we don’t see… for all life. We need stories and actions from every part of our earth. So far, global warming communications have primarily focused on scientific information. I strongly believe that to engage the public, we need all fields of the humanities. It is to this end that I founded ClimateStoryTellers.

And there is much action: globally, 350.org and Climate Justice Movement; nationally, organizations such as Center for Biological Diversity; and state-based initiatives such as New Energy Economy in New Mexico. These groups give us hope that a bold – not weak – climate movement will continue to move forward with renewed energy.

Our task is to make the collective global voice louder and louder until ignoring such loud cacophony will not be an option by our governments. Global warming is not something we can solve with good behavior and healthy lifestyles. It will require major government action to control pollution–and–polluters and to start a low–carbon–society.

I’ll end with two simple questions:

Will the economic–and–comfort–needs of our species always trump the survival–needs of all other species that also
inhabit this Earth?


By not taking serious action on global warming, is humanity committing a colossal crime against all other lives on Earth?

Subhankar Banerjee is a photographer, writer, activist, and founder of ClimateStoryTellers. His desert photographs will be presented in a solo exhibition, “Where I Live I Hope To Know,” at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth (May 14–August 28, 2011) and in group exhibitions “(Re–) Cycles of Paradise” at the Centro Cultural de España in Mexico City (November 11, 2010–January 16, 2011) and “Earth Now: American Photographers and the Environment” at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe (April 18–August 28, 2011). His arctic photographs will be presented in a solo exhibition “Resource Wars in the American Arctic” at the School of Fine Art Gallery at Indiana University in Bloomington (October 22–November 19, 2010) and in group exhibition “The Altered Landscape: Photographs of a Changing Environment” at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno (September 24, 2011–February 19, 2012). Subhankar is currently editing an anthology titled “Arctic Voices.” You can visit his website by clicking here.

[Note on photographs: To view Subhankar’s forest death photos from New Mexico click here. This album was curated to accompany this piece.]

[Note for readers: I’d like to thank my long–time collaborator and the editor of this piece Christine Clifton–Thornton; to Roger Brown, Anne-Marie Melster, and Ananda Banerjee for sharing their observations for this piece; and always to Tom Engelhardt for his support and inspiration.]

Copyright 2010 Subhankar Banerjee

All republished content that appears on Truthout has been obtained by permission or license.