Cocoa demand has been on a sharp uptick dating back to the onset of the pandemic. The initial push came from a need for comfort food at a time when the world seemed to be falling apart. The continued uptick may be tied to the health movement behind dark chocolate. Tell anyone that any form of chocolate is good for their health, and well, you get what’s playing out.
Global demand is expected to spike 40% from 2019 to 2027.
Who’s gonna complain about more chocolate?
Well, the planet might. That’s because there has been a dark secret underlying the cocoa industry for a long time now, and it’s about time that industry changed in a big way as it’s one of the biggest drivers in the world of deforestation.
Part of the major challenge in reforming the cocoa industry is how concentrated its power distribution is.
Two countries – Ivory Coast & Ghana – produce over 60% of the world’s cocoa. The rest of it coming from other parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America mostly. All areas facing a deforestation crisis.
On top of that, 3 companies – Olam, Cargill, and Barry Callebaut – basically all but control the entire global cocoa supply. They sit in between the farmers and the manufacturers.
So that’s the problem? Well massive amounts of critical forest are being destroyed every year to keep with the growing demand of cocoa.
In Ivory Coast, from 2001 to 2014, over 300,000 acres of protected habitat were turned into cocoa plantations. Ghana has lost 10% of its tree cover during a similar window, with 25% of that loss due to cocoa.
Now countries like Indonesia and Peru are getting into mix, putting their forests in jeopardy. We already know the turmoil Indonesian forests have gone through via the palm oil industry. In Peru, cocoa production is up 5x since 1990.
Full sun exposure is advantageous for short-term productivity. With it comes a complete loss of biodiversity, and with that there are more pests that create needs for pesticides, and less natural ground water as soil health erodes creating a need for more water augmentation in countries that have enough trouble getting water to their citizens as is….all the same problems we’ve talking about across traditional form of monocropping, short-term scale agriculture.
Moreover, the farmers themselves are getting diminished from the financial chain, which makes their ability to bear the capital costs to change practices much harder even if they wanted to. In the 1980s, farmers got 16% of the price of a chocolate bar. Today this is less than 6%.
AGROFORESTRY TO THE RESCUE
What’s the solution? Are we supposed to avoid cocoa or have an anxiety attack when we eat it? Absolutely not. The onus here needs to be on the corporations and the countries that source it.
There is a way to keep our cocoa and not damage the planet to the degree we are. It centers around agroforestry. If you’re not familiar with agroforestry, here is a great article that will give you a bit of a summary of what it includes. Essentially it’s the idea of growing vegetables and fruits as part of a larger forest, leveraging the benefits of biodiversity, richer soil, and increased water retention to aid in growth.
The thing is, this type of agriculture takes time to reach its peak productivity. Once you get there, it can be even more productive than traditional monoculture farming, but it doesn’t happen overnight. This prevents farmers in places like Africa and Latin America from doing so for fear of losing in the short term to competition not doing the same.
So how do we get there?
There is a model. The Brazilian Soy Moratorium was a very successful initiative that saw the major traders agree to stop buying soy from farms practicing deforestation. Here is a summary of some of those results.
In the case of cocoa, it’s Cargill, Olam, and Barry Callebut that would need to step up and agree to only buy from the right type of farms.
Government can also help, by subsidizing this type of farming, which has proven to be a more successful model than punishing the violators.
SO LONG GODIVA
As a final mention here, guess what chocolate brand in the world scores the worst on environmental standards? You might think a mass market, cheap brand like Mars or Hershey. Nope. Godiva.
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What’s the Deal With the Blue New Deal?
Since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez launched a resolution to create a committee on a Green New Deal in 2018, climate action has garnered a lot more attention in the United States. It sparked important conversations about the lengths to which we need to go in order to mend and save our planet. The Green New Deal includes a lot of plans that we agree with, but only a small faction of it focuses on protecting and saving our oceans. During her candidacy for President of the United States, Elizabeth Warren presented her plans for a Blue New Deal- a plan to protect the oceans, rebuild ocean economies, and adapt as climate change impacts the planet in unprecedented ways.
71% of our planet is covered in the ocean, so our planet Earth is more accurately called the Blue Planet. Our oceans are essential to the success of our existence. The ocean absorbs heat, it sequesters 25% of the world’s carbon, contributes 304 billion dollars to our national GDP, and feeds over 3 billion people worldwide. It’s safe to say that we depend on the ocean for a lot, so the ocean’s health and survival is linked to our own.
The main threats to our oceans are climate change, pollution, and overfishing. After decades of absorbing human abuse, the ocean is crying out for help. On the brink of collapse, our world ocean requires “radical” protection and legislation if we want to keep our lives at any degree of normalcy as we know it. Warren’s Blue New Deal outlines the steps we should start with in order to provide our oceans with the protection it needs. It includes plans for habitat protection, adapting to climate change, and rebuilding our economy. The plan encompasses the many facets of protection and action that our oceans need in order to be preserved.
Rebuilding the Economy
The Blue New Deal plans to improve and rebuild the economy around sustainable oceans include expanding offshore renewable energy, building climate-ready fisheries, expanding cost and community based seafood markets, investing in regenerative ocean farming, and building ports that can withstand the effects of climate change.
Habitat Protection and Restoration
Included in the plan is the restoration or marine ecosystems (mangroves, seagrass, etc.), expanding marine protected areas, investing in marine carbon sequestration through restoration of habitats, reducing ocean trash, ending offshore drilling, holding big agribusiness accountable for pollution, and collectively managing our international waters.
Adapting in a Changing Climate
The plan for adapting to a changing climate encompasses pre-disaster mitigation, post-disaster mitigation, flood insurance reform, managing drought, and investing in our Great Lakes.
The proposed Blue New Deal is a long list of reforms that need to be made in order to ensure the longevity of our oceans, but if these stones continue to be left unturned, we will reach a point of no return. We will reach a point where these efforts to protect our oceans won’t be effective, and our lives and planet will be altered forever. Fortunately, we have some time and (many) things we can do to try and right the wrongs that humans have done to the ocean; We just have to support, challenge, and create movements like a Blue New Deal and act on them NOW!
Here is a link to Warren’s New Blue Deal so you can read it yourself!
Forget About Your Carbon Footprint
At some point you’ve probably been told to lower your carbon footprint. Maybe you experimented with a carbon footprint calculator. Perhaps you actually made some changes in your day to day life to even lower it, but if so, you probably have found you can only lower it so much.
Well, that might be because the entire notion of individual carbon footprints were never designed to address climate change, but rather, to pass the buck of responsibility from corporate polluters to individuals.
This was detailed very well in a recent article on Mashable in India.
A Master Class In Marketing
You gotta hand it to the corporate villains here, they really have done a great job of tricking us all.
Go back to 1971, when an award winning and famous TV ad depicting a guy throwing trash out of a moving car and it landing on a Native American man who tears up made the entire public feel terrible about the waste they produce and push towards recycling. The producers of that video ad? An organization representing Pepsi, Coke, and Budweiser.
This set the stage for the great personal carbon footprint campaign, championed aggressively by British Petroleum. They have spent millions and millions in ads and media over multiple decades urging people to calculate their carbon footprint and to do what they could to lower it, because global warming is your responsibility, not theirs. You’ll see them as the main brand behind KnowYourCarbonFootprint.com.
When you consider that by 2018 only 2% of BP’s spending is going towards renewables, BP has basically been putting more effort and money towards trying to convince the public to focus on their carbon footprint than actually lowering their own.
Individual Action Matters
This doesn’t mean individual action doesn’t matter. On the contrary, it very much does in our opinion. Just not for the the reason of worrying about your carbon footprint.
In fact, forget about your carbon footprint. Don’t worry about calculating it and stressing over it because as the Mashable article points out, we live in such a carbon intensive world that you will never be able to lower it by any massive order of magnitude.
The role of individual action is shifting culture. We believe that the ultimate solution long term to the climate crisis is a fundamental change in our culture. Where everyone is living with the environment as a priority. That it is so normalized, businesses can only compete and exist if they are doing the same. After all, businesses typically reflect culture and aim to monetize it.
Every action you take and every person you inspire to do the same contributes to the much needed cultural shift. But it will take time. Generations, not years. So worrying about your carbon footprint in the short term is counter productive. It’s going to give you anxiety and a sense of hopelessness, which is exactly what big oil and gas wants, cause hopelessness leads then to apathy.
Let’s hold corporations accountable and not let them off the hook. Let’s not let them bias us towards frameworks that support their laissez faire attitude of keeping things as they are and just virtual signaling to make themselves look good.
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This week, China declared that Giant Pandas are officially no longer endangered, moving them to “vulnerable” status now that there are 1,800 living in the wild. This is a major victory for a species that was once on the brink of extinction.
Internationally, pandas were declared no longer endangered and moved to vulnerable by the IUCN 5 years ago, when it was reported there were roughly the same number in the wild. China though, declared it premature, saying more time was needed to ensure these numbers held steady. Although many speculate that China simply didn’t want an international body taking credit for their beloved cultural symbol, that they should be the ones declaring it’s status change when they deem appropriate.
How big of a victory is this? Can we trust the numbers? And what does it mean?
The panda has been a renowned symbol in Chinese culture. It is a national treasure for the nation because of its unique appearance, lovable docile behavior, rich cultural history in media, most recently from the hit films Kung-Fu Panda. The panda is beloved for many reasons sloths are, they seem to embody a laid back, relaxed attitude we all can relate to.
There are many reasons pandas became endangered, mostly due to habitat loss as China has developed in the past 100 years. Additionally, pandas are poor sexual performers, in no rush to reproduce, and their extremely picky eaters, eating only two types of bamboo and have shown a willingness to starve themselves if it’s not around.
China has made protecting pandas a priority, especially for its global image. They want to be seen as environmental stewards and reviving panda populations has been at the forefront of this effort. Although this makes one question the motives and wonder if they will be extended to other species.
“In some ways the panda is the luckiest species on earth — but in other ways it is not lucky at all,” says Professor Wang Dajun, a wild-panda expert at Peking University. “Humans want to protect pandas not for scientific reasons, or because they are ecologically important, but because they have cute faces and they are politically important.”
Whether this marks a true turning point for China wildlife protection remains to be seen. On the one hand, because pandas require such rich habitat flush with bamboo, their revival creates a by-product of more wild space for others. Siberian tigers, elephants, and crested ibises also are reported to be on the rise.
On the other hand, China is also the country that approved a Covid treatment in 2020 using bear bile, which is perhaps the most inhumane, horrific practice of animal torture we’ve either witnessed and hope you never do an internet search for. Please, seriously, don’t.
So let’s celebrate the wins where we can get them, but continue to hold China and ourselves here in the US to much higher standards for environmental stewardship and conservation.
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Some Dope Upcycled Jackets and Totes
Here is a company making some upcycled jackets and totes called Arc’Teryx
Now, they still sell original source products with synthetic, petroleum derived fabrics. But at least they are putting real effort into upcycling, and hopefully as soon as non-petroleum derived fibers are ready at scale from folks like Kintra, they will make the switch over.
Most of all, they aren’t actively engaged in greenwashing like North Face.
Drone Army Vs. Ocean Plastic Pollution
Our world’s dirtiest confession is no secret: We have a massive plastic problem. Our oceans are no exception to this problem, and some may even argue that the problem is worse there than on our lands, given the high volume and direct impact plastic pollution has on marine life and its ecosystems. Many animals such as seabirds, turtles, fish, whales, rays and others often find themselves tangled in ocean plastic waste, which can often be fatal if left untangled. Some animals, like turtles, will even mistake certain plastics for food, ingest it and suffer severe health issues resultantly. And those are just the BIG plastics. Our oceans also contain microplastics, or tiny little pieces of fragmented plastic less than 5mm in length. They enter natural ecosystems from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes, and make their way up the food chain (yes, eventually ending up in human bodies). It’s estimated that there are 14 million tons of microplastic on the ocean floor alone.
The Mighty Impact of Microplastics
And unfortunately none of that data even begins to scratch the surface. As many as 91 million metric tons of litter entered the oceans between 1990 and 2015, as much as 87% of which was plastic, according to research. An estimated 5.25 trillion particles of litter are currently floating in the oceans today. Recent funding and focus has been primarily allocated towards banning single use plastics, however many conservationists point out that there has already been a lot of damage done that needs addressing, too.
So, what is being done to solve this plastic problem? The answer is similar to that of many other world issues…. robots, of course! While around 80% of ocean plastic pollution projects are focused on monitoring only, the remaining 20% are aimed at the actual clean up. Still, the number of methods has increased exponentially recently, with 73% of all methods having been developed in the past four years alone. So you can say there has been a huge tech boom in the ocean clean-up sphere, which is great, although we do have to note that the plastic problem was reasonably understood by the late 1980’s, and we are just now seeing action (better late than never?).
Ok, so now for the whole robot/drone part. With new funding and much needed focus on the plastic pollution problem, the robot army is resultantly rising. Various robots have been developed recently, all with the purpose of clearing plastic from our oceans. Note: this mainly tackles the large plastics, and not microplastics.
Among these inventions is the sea garbage bin, which is a giant plastic-collecting barrier, and a marine drone that floats and collects garbage through a wide opening that mimics the mouth of a whale shark.
Another litter clearer is the BeachBot, a garbage collecting rover (designed after the Mars rover), that collects small trash like cigarette butts, single use utensils or plastic caps from beaches.
While these robots sound great (and kind of adorable?), many can’t help but wonder how much of a dent these will truly make in the insane mass of plastic in our oceans. Plastic production and waste accumulates faster than the inventions to reduce it. By some calculations, it would take about a century to remove 5% of plastics currently in the oceans using only clean-up devices.
We have a feeling this is just the beginning of robot solutions like this being implemented to assist with environmental issues. And while we look forward to seeing further developments, we also simultaneously continue to stress that the world also needs some serious behavior changes from a preventative standpoint if we ever want a chance of actually tackling the plastic.