Friday, November 30, 2007

How Chocolate Can Save the Planet

cacao pods, the source of chocolate, growing in Brazil's endangered rainforests

Click here to listen to How Chocolate Can Save the Planet, a report on NPR by Joanne Silberner. Or read it below.

How Chocolate Can Save the Planet

Many people agree that chocolate is good for the soul, and researchers are finding that chocolate can be good for the body, too. But the environment? How could chocolate help with global climate change?

The answer is found in a little piece of paradise, a patch of rainforest in eastern Brazil. Everywhere you look, something is growing. Orchids nestle in the crooks of trees. There are hundreds of shades of green, and the forest is loud with birds and insects.

Some areas have been thinned out and planted with cacao trees — the source of chocolate. The pods contain the magical beans that Aztecs counted like gold. The cultivated cacao trees grow just a bit higher than a man can reach, and rainforest trees tower over them like something out of Dr. Seuss — some round like lollipops, some flat like a plate.

And here's the climate connection. Rainforest trees and plants store massive amounts of carbon — keeping it from getting into the air as carbon dioxide.

Can Chocolate Help Save the Rainforest?

There's a lot less rainforest than there once was. There used to be 330 million acres of rainforest in eastern Brazil, called the Mata Atlantica. Settlers arrived hundreds of years ago and began destroying the forest for the wood, and to create fields for pasture and crops. Only 7 percent of the Mata Atlantica remains, and destruction is still going on. Every time a tree is burned, its stored carbon is released. As more carbon is released into the air, the planet gets warmer.

That worries Dario Ahnert, a plant expert at the State University of Santa Cruz in Eastern Brazil. He says farmers need an incentive to save the remaining forest, and he hopes chocolate will be that incentive.

Chocolate used to be a huge industry here, but in the past two decades, plant disease and low prices in the world market for cocoa beans devastated the industry. Farmers turned to other ways of making a living, including logging trees or burning the forest for farmland or pasture. When the nutrients in the soil were used up, the land was abandoned.

Ahnert wants to persuade farmers to return to chocolate farming and preserve the forest. His friend, Joao Tavares, shows it can be done.

Cabruca Farming

Joao Tavares is a fourth-generation cocoa producer. Tavares, along with his brother and father, has 2,200 acres of rainforest planted with cacao trees. They grow cocoa using a method called cabruca — cutting down just a few of the tall rainforest trees, and planting the mid-height cacao trees underneath.

Inside Tavares' cabruca forest, the ground is covered in a thick layer of composting leaves. It's moist, shady and cool here in the cabruca. Football-shaped pods — striped in yellow and green and orange and brown — jut out from the trunks and branches of the cacao trees.

Tavares has worked hard to maintain, and also to restore, his little piece of the rainforest. He says that in the past 10 years, he has planted many wild trees.

"We understand that we have to preserve the cabruca," Tavares says, "even if you have less production."

He gets fewer cacao trees to the acre by planting inside the forest. But he avoids the drawbacks other farmers struggle with when they grow cacao trees on more open land.

"You have more production, but you have lots of problems," Tavares explains. "You have more disease, more insects, so we decide to preserve."

There's also an expanding market for environmentally friendly chocolate. Tavares has been able to get a premium for some of his crop.

Carbon Credits for Farmers?

Still, his friend, professor Ahnert, admits that cabruca is a tough sell: Farmers want more so-called modern approaches and quicker money. That's why Ahnert hopes that cabruca can become part of the carbon credit market. Farmers would then get money for preserving forest trees, as well as for their chocolate.

"You could increase the income, so I hope some day people that maintain this area are able to get carbon credits," Ahnert says.

The World Agroforestry Center and the chocolate manufacturer Mars Inc. are currently studying how carbon storage can be measured on cabruca-like farms, and whether a carbon credit system would help farmers — and the environment.

Reviving the Land through Chocolate

And there's an even more ambitious idea out there. Howard Shapiro, chief agronomist at Mars, hopes that chocolate could even bring back a little of the forest paradise that's been lost.

He's doing tests with local scientists at Brazil's national chocolate research institute.

"This is an area that's been planted on degraded land," Shapiro says, giving a tour of the three-acre research plot.

After the forest disappeared, the soil became hard and compact, like yellow cement. Only weeds grew in it. Shapiro and his colleagues asked local farmers what sort of plants they would like, both in the long run and while they wait for the soil to become rich enough to support cacao trees.

"What we decided to do was, we would begin with annual crops," Shapiro explains. "Corn, beans — things that have a cash crop value — melons, squashes, and begin to establish bananas for shade, then start to plant cacao."

They also planted rubber trees, and heliconium flowers. The first plants went in seven years ago. Now it's easy to grab a handful of soil. It's dark brown, moist and crumbly, like devil's food cake — with worms. But the worms are good for the soil.

"See all the little flowers on this tree?" Shapiro asks, pointing to a cacao tree. "All those little pink buds. … It's healthy. These trees are healthy."

Shapiro wants to work out the details, but he's ready to say the project is a success. "We learned that you could take totally abandoned land, and you could restore it to profitability after about three years," he says.

So, will preserving, and even replanting, some of this forest in eastern Brazil fix the Earth's climate problem? No. But in this little corner of the world, it may help. And at least we'll have more chocolate.

Produced by Anna Vigran

Keywords :: chocolate, rainforests, shade-grown, sustainable crops, cacao trees, cacao farming, cacao pods

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Farmed Salmon versus Wild Salmon

salmon farm enclosure

Do you eat salmon? Lots of doctors are recommending it. But there’s more to salmon than meets the eye. If you haven’t seen the word “wild” at the market or on the menu, the salmon you’re eating is probably farmed. Farmed salmon are raised in floating feedlots in Chile, Canada, Europe, and the United States. And that spells trouble. For you, for wild salmon, and for the oceans.

How can a food be so inexpensive in the supermarket but so costly both to our well-being and the environment? It’s because the economic groundrules hide the real costs.

In the case of farmed salmon, those rules allow raw sewage to pour into coastal waters, and fatal epidemics to spread from farmed to wild fish. Meanwhile, the industry dodges the bill, leaving you, me, and our children to pick up the tab.

Many people think that buying farmed salmon saves wild fish. Think again.

Salmon farms don’t protect wild salmon. Instead, they infect wild fish with parasites and diseases, and compete for precious habitat when farmed fish escape their pens.

image from another salmon farm

These problems can spell disaster for wild fish. In British Columbia, at least three rivers have now been populated by escaped Atlantic salmon, an invader to our Pacific waters that competes with native fish. In Norway, the government has resorted to the deliberate poisoning of whole rivers to wipe out the spread of a parasite from a farming hatchery.

Now that we recognize these problems, it’s time to demand that salmon farmers clean up their act. The farms can improve by raising the fish on land, in ponds whose waste is treated before it is released into the sea. That would at least isolate them from the wild fish they are harming.

Salmon farming expanded from just 10% of global salmon production in 1986 to 58% in 2001 — much faster than our understanding of its impacts. As a result, salmon farmers have been getting a free ride. It’s time for them to start covering the true costs.

For more information, click on Ecotrust's article below, The Hidden Costs of Farmed Salmon.

Keywords :: farmed salmon, wild salmon

Source: "The Hidden Costs of Farmed Salmon". Section Z: A Project of Ecotrust.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Major New Report Tells Foods that Reduce Risk of Cancer

What we eat plays an important role in reducing our risk of developing cancer.

Or so concludes a new report from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research. The report summarized the findings of dozens of nutrition scientists from around the world, who reviewed thousands of studies published during the last 40 years. The new guidelines are more specific and less biased than the guidelines from the U.S. government, which are influenced by lobbyists from the food industry.

The new report recommends guidelines that for most Americans would be an "extreme makeover" of the dinner plate.

Among the new recommendations:

Eat mostly foods of plant origin. Eat at least 5 servings or 14 oz total of a variety of nonstarchy fruits and vegetables every day, as well as unprocessed breads, cereals, legumes or lentils with every meal. Refined, starchy foods such as white bread and pasta made with white flour should be limited.

Reduce sugary drinks and fast foods. These foods have far more calories than we need. With sweet drinks, our brains don't seem to register the calories, so we keep eating.

Red meat and processed meats "are convincing or probable causes" of cancer. Anyone who eats beef, pork, lamb or goat meat should limit it to not more than 18 oz. per week, which amounts to less than 3 oz. per day, a piece smaller than a deck of cards. Rarely or never eat processed meats such as sausage, bacon, and smoked or cured meats.

The report recommends keeping our weights at the low end of the normal range and exercising 30 to 60 minutes per day.

To see the entire report, go to

Suzanne Havala Hobbs of UNC Department of Health Policy. "Foods you eat can contribute to risk of getting cancer." Charlotte Observer, page 2e. November 21, 2007.

Keywords:: cancer, vegetarian diet, red meat, diet and cancer, World Cancer Research Fund, UNC Department of Health Policy, American Institute for Cancer Research, low fat diet, plant based diet

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Great tips for socially conscious gifts including fair trade chocolate

Listed below are some online sites to shop for socially-conscious gifts, including fair-trade chocolate. Great gift! When buying chocolate supports conscientious producers in developing nations, everyone gets to feel good. Most or all of the items available on the websites below are certified fair trade. This means that the workers who produced them were paid a living wage in safe working conditions.

Global Exchange Online:

Grounds for Change (coffee and chocolate):

Ten Thousand Villages:

Source: "Footnotes." November 2007. The newsletter of the North Carolina Sierra Club.

Key words:: socially conscious gifts, fair trade gifts, labor friendly gifts, fair trade chocolate

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More Green Ideas for Sustainable Holiday Gifts

Photo courtesy of Greener Magazine

More eco-groovy tips from Sierra Club for gifts that help the planet, and may convert your recipient to a greener lifestyle....

1. compact fluorescent light bulbs (Home Depot or

2. reusuable shopping bags (many supermarkets carry them now, or try

3. rechargableable batteries and battery chargers (Sundance Solar or stores like Target)

earth-friendly cleaning and household products from, or your local natural food store

5. LED or solar lights (we ordered LED headlamps online, Petzl brand)

hand-cranked flashlights and radios (great for weather emergencies as well as earth-friendly)

7. rain barrels (especially valuable in areas hit by the current drought)

8. compost bins (available at many gardening centers)

Source: Footnotes: The Newsletter for the N.C. Sierra Club. November 2007 (adapted from

Key words:: earth-friendly gifts, eco-friendly gifts, tips for green gifts, environmentally conscious gifts, sustainable gifts, holiday gifts

6 Great Tips for Earth-friendly No-Shopping Gifts

Just got back from shopping for a presentable-looking little table to put my laptop on, so I can take down the hideous card table in the living room. I'm addicted to working on my laptop while I watch TV in the evenings. But I can't leave the rickety card table up while family are here for Thanksgiving. It's just too ugly.

Never did find a little table, but the shopping almost did me in. There's very little in life that I hate more than shopping, especially on a day when traffic is clogged. I found a scratched-up black TV-table at Goodwill for $8 that tempted me, and a perfect cherry "hall table" at the Amish furniture store for $269. Get real! I can't afford that. So I came home with nothing. Perfectly good waste of a beautiful Wednesday afternoon.

Anyway, contemplating more shopping makes me want to I'm re-thinking the upcoming holiday season. I'm beginning to contemplate holiday presents that don't involve shopping. A gift list that doesn't require shopping will not only contribute to my serenity, but I'll save the fossil fuels required to drive around town endlessly. And if I get environmentally conscious gifts - all the better.

Here is a list of a few eco-friendly gift ideas that don't involve shopping:

1. Adopt a gorilla in a loved-one's name:

2. Contribute to local Habitat for Humanity green building projects

3. Adopt-an-acre of rainforest:

4. Plant a tree or a special garden together:

5. Give a membership to Sierra Club, your local land conservancy, the Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, World Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation Society, Waterkeeper Alliance, or the American Bird Conservancy.

6. Give a gift certificate to a local grocery that carries organic foods exclusively.

Next post: suggestions for socially conscious gifts.

Source: Footnotes: The Newsletter for the N.C. Sierra Club. November 2007 (adapted from

Key words:: earth-friendly gifts, no-shopping gifts, eco-friendly gifts, environmentally conscious gifts, sustainable gifts, holiday gifts, shop from home

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mangroves - A Potent Climate Change Weapon

mangroves at low tide

Mangrove forests, found along tropical coasts throughout the world, may become tools in the fight against global warming. A study by Malaysian professor Jim Eong Ong reveals that mangroves may sequester more carbon than any other ecosystem on earth, soaking up some of the carbon dioxide that humans generate.

However, mangrove forests in South America and Southeast Asia are being destroyed to clear their shallow ocean-side habitats for the building of shrimp ponds to meet the increasing demand for seafood in rich countries such as the United States. Shrimp farmers only use each pond for a short period before clearing more mangrove forest to build new ponds - a strategy to avoid disease in shrimp populations. In other areas of the world, human population growth has led to destruction of these coastal forests to make way for oceanside development. But new evidence could provide more incentives for preserving mangroves forests, which are home to many coastal birds that nest nowhere else, and which protect the vulnerable young of many marine fish from larger predatory oceanic fish.

If carbon trading becomes mainstream, mangrove forests may benefit, as the forests could be "traded" as a commodity. If a developing country agreed to preserve a forest of mangroves, it could claim a carbon-sequestering unit and then sell it to an industrialized country struggling to reduce emissions. Thus,
mangrove forests would be preserved both for their ecological value and as a new weapon against global climate change. Destruction of mangroves is not only bad news for our climate, it can also have devastating effects on ecologically and commercially important fish populations.

Key words:: global warming, climate change, tools, solutions, mangroves, carbon trading, sequester carbon, fish populations, commercial fisheries

Cory Sanderson. Fall 2007. "Mangroves - The Unexpected Climate Change Weapon." The Reporter, a publication of Population Connection.

Kennedy Warne. "Forests of the Tide." National Geographic. February 2007.

mangrove forest at high tide

Friday, November 09, 2007

Action Alert: Send a Message to Congress about Solar Energy Bill

Dear Readers,

Congress is about to pass an energy bill that will kill renewable energy development in this country.

Please TAKE ACTION to set Congress right!

This vital bill is about to be compromised almost to death, with no provision for tax credits to help ordinary Americans take advantage of the benefits of solar energy.

We need you, as a Solar Citizen, to contact your representative and senators as soon as possible, and ask them to put your concerns to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid before Congress gives away YOUR future.

Please click on this link to learn more and to TAKE ACTION!

Thanks for your help!

Chris Stimpson
Solar Nation Executive Campaigner

Violence in Darfur Fueled by Global Warming

Darfur photo courtesy of Columbia University

A hidden culprit behind the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region is global climate change, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon wrote in a newspaper editorial last spring. Although we tend to use political or military terms when discussing the violence in Darfur, "its roots," says Ban, are "a more complex dynamic." One of the root problems of the conflict is global warming.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur since 2003, when local rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government. Violence in Darfur began in response to worsening drought conditions in the region that caused both water and food shortages.

Ban's warning follows that of other experts, including Britain's Home Secretary John Reid, who pointed out that "the lack of water and agricultural land is a significant contributory factor to the tragic conflict we see unfolding in Darfur. We should see this as a warning sign" of continued social dislocation and violence.

Rainfall in Sudan began declining in the 1980s because of "man-made global warming," said Ban. He called for economic development in the region that might involve new irrigation and water storage techniques. Meeting unmet contraceptive need would also address the very root of climate change: population growth.

Key words:: Darfur, violence, global warming, climate change, drought, population growth, Africa

Kandis Wood. Violence in Darfur Linked to Climate Change. The Reporter, magazine of Population Connection, Vol. 39. Fall, 2007.

The Washington Post, AP Online, June 16, 2007.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Nation's Foremost Climate Scientist to Speak Against Duke Energy

The Central Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club is a co-sponsor of this major Charlotte event. Be sure to reserve your seats today for the Nov. 16th Charlotte speech by Dr. Jim Hansen as per below

Power Plants or Clean Energy – Who Decides?

Dr. James Hansen, the nation’s foremost climate scientist, will speak at forums in Charlotte and Chapel Hill on the need for major reductions in greenhouse gases within ten years – before climate disruption becomes irreversible. As a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr. Hansen recently won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Al Gore.

November 16, 7pm - Queens University of Charlotte – Dana Auditorium

To reserve your seats email : or call June Blotnick 704.342.9161

Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute, is coming as a private citizen in support of the statewide effort to block a new coal-fired power plant planned by Duke Energy at Cliffside, NC.

In the 1980s Hansen was one of the first scientists to warn about global warming. He was profiled on CBS 60 Minutes in 2006 for speaking out against White House pressure to censure evidence showing global warming is accelerating.

Mike Nicklas, a leader in renewable energy, will help promote Hansen’s plan for cutting global warming pollution through clean energy solutions. Nicklas is former chair of the American Solar Energy Society, past president of the International Solar Energy Society, and former Director of the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council.

See more on the forums and the Cliffside campaign:

Hosted by: Carolinas Clean Air Coalition and NC WARN

The following organizations are co-sponsors for the forums:

American Lung Association of North Carolina

Appalachian Voices

Care of Creation Mission Group of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh

Caring for Creation Task Force of Park Rd Baptist Church, Charlotte

Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Inc.

Clean Water for North Carolina

Climate Action Network

Conservation Council of North Carolina

Concerned Citizens of Tillery

Earth Ministries Committee of Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, Chapel Hill

Environmental Support Group of Church of Reconciliation, Chapel Hill

Environmental Defense

Environment North Carolina

The Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace and Earth Care Advocacy Team of the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, Raleigh

Grassroots Energy Alliance

Green Team of Unity Church of the Triangle, Raleigh

North Carolina Environmental Justice Network

Nuclear Information and Resource Service

North Carolina Conservation Network

North Carolina Fair Share

North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light

Students United for a Responsible Global Environment

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Southern Environmental Law Center

Sierra Club, Central Piedmont Group

Sierra Club, South Carolina

Friday, November 02, 2007

U. S. Labs Import Thousands of Wild-caught Primates

I was dismayed to learn not long ago that the biggest importer of primates worldwide is the United States. According to an American University document, we import more than 20,000 primates per year into the U.S. We import four times more primates than any other single country, and many of them are wild-caught.

Does it matter? It does. More than 130 of the world’s primate species are endangered.
Although the leading threats to primate populations are destruction of tropical forests and poor protection of existing reserves
, the primate trade or black-market is also a major contributor to the worldwide decline of wild primates. In tropical countries, wild primates are captured and sold for food, for pets, and increasingly, for use in our research labs.

But here's what really puzzled me. I also learned that the U.S. is third in the world in the number of primates exported. Why would the U.S. import wild primates, and then export the ones that are bred here in captivity?

Turns out the answer is pretty easy. Wild-caught primates cost only a third as much as ones in cages. Big savings for a research outfit on a tight budget.

Is all this research on primates and other mammals (dogs, rabbits, etc) really necessary? Many think not. Much of our lab research involves animal-testing of personal-care products such as lotions and cosmetics that are simply new combinations of products that have already been tested.

What about medical research? Paul McCartney is a big supporter of cancer research in honor of his late wife Linda, but he's also an adamant animal-rights activist. Paul donates money to cancer research with the stipulation that it can’t be used to fund animal research. He points out that the most positive gains against cancer have been in education and prevention.

PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has a useful list of how you can help protect animals from laboratory testing, including not only dogs and rabbits, but also wild-caught and captive-bred primates, among them chimpanzees - our closest relatives, whose natural habitats are disappearing.

For more information about the worldwide trade in wild animals, the World Wildlife Fund website is an excellent source.


Primate Trade. Trade & Environment Database. American University.

Wildlife Trade. FAQs. Primate Trade [World Wildlife Fund]

“Sir Paul McCartney: ‘Animal Tests Are Unreliable and Cruel’”

“Huge animal-testing lab Covance tries to silence critics of cruelty to primates.”

International Primate Protection League

Stop Animal Tests. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“Alternatives: Testing Without Torture.” PETA Media Center.

Key words:: primate research, wild-caught primates, lab animals, endangered primates, wildlife trade