National Coffee Day: 4 stories you need to read

Coffee

Coffee is one of Timor-Leste’s most important crops, bringing much-needed revenue to the country. Magdalena Salsinha, holding coffee beans, has been picking coffee since she was 15 years old. Now 57, she lives near Ermera and is married with six children. (© UN Photo/Martine Perret)

Editor’s Note: Today is National Coffee Day in the United States (International Coffee Day is Oct. 1.) Throughout September, Human Nature has been publishing reports on the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a coalition working to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product. Read the entire series below.

But first, watch Conservation International’s brand new video on sustainable coffee:

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The doctor is in: Indonesia’s whale sharks get annual check-up

Whale shark

CI and Georgia Aquarium embarked on a whale shark expedition in Cendrawasih Bay to conduct the world’s first health assessments on wild whale sharks. ( © Conservation International/photo by Mark Erdmann)

Imagine swimming with a shark as big as a bus. Now imagine trying to measure, tag and take blood samples from this shark — giving it a physical, as in a typical doctor’s visit — but underwater and in less than 30 minutes.

For nine days, I helped complete the world’s first health assessment of wild whale sharks, the biggest fish on Earth, in Cendrawasih Bay in West Papua, Indonesia. By studying whale shark health, I and other scientists hoped to gain insight not only into Indonesia’s largest whale shark population, but also the health of the marine environment that these giant fish and coastal communities rely on for survival.

This opportunity meant that we could build in-country expertise and knowledge for whale shark conservation, and as a result, wider ocean conservation — by local Indonesians who love and care for the waters that nourish and bring joy to our lives. After all, millions of Indonesians depend directly on the oceans for their food and livelihoods, while thousands travel domestically to experience the wildlife and beauty of these waters.

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Unsustainable coffee? In the near future, it won’t be an option

Coffee berries

In Chiapas, Mexico, men transport coffee berries for processing. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Editor’s note: September 29 marks National Coffee Day in the United States (International Coffee Day is Oct. 1.) Throughout September, Human Nature is publishing reports on the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a coalition working to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product. This post is the fourth in the series.

I remember a time when the only real choice you had to make about your coffee was to add cream or sugar.

Now? A dizzying array of brands, beans and blends competes for your taste buds (and your pocketbook). Soon — if I have my way — there will be one thing that coffee drinkers will not have to make a choice about: whether the brew they’re drinking is sustainably sourced.

On National Coffee Day, coffee shops across the United States will offer free cups of java to get you in the door. What is remarkable to me, having worked in the coffee world for over 15 years, is that despite cutthroat competition for your coffee money, these companies are starting to work together for a shared goal: to ensure a sustained supply of coffee that is good for nature and for the 25 million people who grow the crop.

How? It starts with sourcing.

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In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world

Giant panda

Giant panda in Sichuan, China. (© Piotr Naskrecki)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a new feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about. 

Forests versus hurricanes

Forests may provide defend against hurricanes and cyclones — by inhibiting them from forming, according to a top forestry scientist.

The story: Through complex atmospheric mechanics that are only now beginning to become clear, forests may effectively compete with cyclones for the moisture that powers such storms, writes Douglas Sheil of the Center for International Forestry Research. As Sheil writes, “Our work suggests that forests may protect continental regions from extreme storms. … Evidence suggests that by importing atmospheric moisture from the ocean, forests deplete the vapor available to generate and support cyclones.” Read more here.

The big picture: This hypothesis is still being tested, and it will be some time before the relationship between forests and cyclones is completely understood. But it may yet be further evidence that the loss of the planet’s forests is detrimental to ecosystems and for people — including in ways we may not fully understand yet. “Ignoring the plight of forests,” Sheil writes, “is asking for trouble.”

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Coffee’s bitter side: addressing labor conditions

Farmer

A farmer in Colombia’s Nariño Department checks his coffee bushes. (© Neil Palmer, CIAT)

Editor’s note: September 29 marks National Coffee Day in the U.S. Throughout the month of September, Human Nature is publishing a special series of reports on the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a coalition working to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product. This post is the third in the series.

The coffee sector has a labor problem – or maybe multiple labor problems.

Pruning and weeding of coffee trees, and picking the ripe cherries, is all done by hand on the vast majority of farms, and this labor accounts for up to 60 percent of production costs. Meanwhile, climate change, disease outbreaks and price fluctuations can disrupt traditional labor patterns and lead to labor shortages and create conditions for poor labor practices.

So we have to ask the question: Who is picking our coffee?

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What on Earth is the ‘carbon budget’?

Fossil fuels

If we keep burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests, we will have put enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that we will reach a point of no return. (© manfredxy)

Editor’s note: From “climate adaptation” to “ecosystem services,” environmental jargon is everywhere these days. Conservation International’s Human Nature blog looks to make sense of it in an occasional explainer series we’re calling “What on Earth?”

In this installment, we explore the “carbon budget” — what it is, why it’s important, and how a new study about it is making waves.

What is the ‘carbon budget’?

It’s generally defined as the maximum amount of carbon that humans could emit into the atmosphere and still keep global average temperatures below an increase of 2 degrees Celsius.

What does that mean, in layman’s terms?

In other words: If we keep burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests, at some point we will have put enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to assure that global warming will reach a catastrophic point of no return.

Renowned climate policy expert — and Conservation International Distinguished Fellow — Christiana Figueres likens the carbon budget to a bathtub that’s already 60 percent full. If you keep adding water, at some point in the near future the tub will overflow.

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Figueres to European leaders: Climate action requires protecting forests

Christiana Figueres

Speaking before an audience of EU officials in Brussels, Christiana Figueres addressed the environmental footprint of products consumed by Europeans but produced elsewhere. (© Ivo Popov Photography)

Renowned climate policy expert Christiana Figueres called on European leaders Tuesday to regulate agriculture imports to the European Union (EU) that cause deforestation.

Speaking before an audience of EU officials in Brussels, Figueres, former head of the UN’s climate change body and a Lui-Walton Distinguished Fellow at Conservation International, addressed Europe’s import-driven deforestation — the environmental footprint of products consumed by Europeans but produced elsewhere.

According to Figueres, “deforestation represents a significant threat for the climate, and Europe ought to focus on the impact of its consumption abroad.”

The role of deforestation in climate change is clear, but it is often overlooked in international deliberations.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 11 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation, half of which are the result of internationally traded agriculture products. According to Conservation International experts, stopping deforestation and restoring degraded lands can deliver at least 30 percent of the required emissions reductions needed to reach the targets of the Paris Agreement, while at the same time improving food security and the well-being of the developing countries.

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UPDATE: U.S. recommends reductions to 10 national monuments

Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, pictured, is one of the four protected areas Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that President Trump shrink. (© Bob Wick, BLM/Flickr Creative Commons)

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended reductions in 10 U.S. national monuments and parks, The Washington Post reported.

The recommendation, attributed to a leaked memo, calls for shrinking at least four sites and changing management at all 10 sites to permit previously restricted activities such as grazing and mining.

The news comes several weeks after the conclusion of an unusual, months-long review of national monuments established by previous U.S. presidents under the Antiquities Act recommended cuts to an unspecified handful of monuments. In the weeks before the recommendation, over 3 million public comments flooded in to the Interior Department in overwhelming support of these areas, and multiple groups vowed legal opposition.

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In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world, Climate Week edition

The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat — and no one is paying attention. (© Benjamin Drummond)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a new series, Human Nature shares three sobering stories from the past week that you should know about as we go in to Climate Week.

Asia’s glaciers to shrink by a third by 2100, threatening water supply of millions

Himalayan glaciers — a crucial source of fresh water for millions of people in South Asia and China — will lose up to a third of their mass, a study found.

The story: The Asian high mountains, the new study said, were already warming more rapidly than the global average, Agence France Presse reported Wednesday in The Guardian. The bad news: This is a best-case scenario, as it assumes that global average temperature rise can be capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Read more here.

The big picture: While much of the conservation world’s attention is focused on protecting forests, wetlands and coral reefs, mountains are sometimes taken for granted — yet climate change could crumble their ability to support life as we know it. Mountains’ contributions to fresh water, energy and biodiversity are at risk in a changing climate.

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Massive reforestation effort puts down roots in Brazilian Amazon

Amazon

Aerial view of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. (© filipefrazao)

A new project seeks to kickstart a revival for the world’s largest rainforest by planting new trees — tens of millions of them.

The project, announced Friday at the “Rock in Rio” music fest in Brazil, aims to restore 73 million trees in the Brazilian Amazon by 2023. Spanning 30,000 hectares of land (about 74,000 acres), the project is the largest tropical forest restoration in the world and helps Brazil move towards its Paris Agreement target of reforesting 12 million hectares of land by 2030.

“This is a breathtakingly audacious project,” said M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International (CI), one of the partners behind the effort. “The fate of the Amazon depends on getting this right — as do the region’s 25 million residents, its countless species and the climate of our planet.”

The Amazon forest is home to the richest biodiversity of any ecosystem on the planet — a recent report described some 400 new species discovered in the Amazon between 2014 and 2015 alone — yet is rapidly vanishing with increasing global demand for resources. The economy, essentially focused on the exploitation of natural resources, minerals and agribusiness, has already led to about 20 percent of original forest cover to be replaced by pastures and agricultural crops, without securing the well-being of the local population. The reforestation project fills an urgent need to develop the region’s economy without destroying its forests and ensuring the well-being of its people.

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