Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Condoms to the Rescue, and 5 Other Novel Ideas for Saving the Forests

Wear condoms, retire the bear, and eat less fried chicken.

Those are among the unusual ideas for helping the environment in general and forests in particular that were turned up by a Dead Tree Edition study of recent news reports. I don't think you'll see these in the mainstream media's usual Earth Day articles:

Wear condoms
Not just any condoms, mind you, but Brazilian condoms made from genuine rubber rather than petroleum-based synthetics. The Brazilian government, the world’s largest buyer of condoms, has opened a factory that will produce 100 million rubber condoms per year, the Guardian reports.

“The condom project is both environmentally and economically sustainable,” says the Guardian. “It will provide an income to around 550 families and reduce the incentives for deforestation. The Government says the condoms are the only ones in the world made of latex harvested from a tropical forest” rather than from oil-based synthetics that are cheaper than natural rubber.

The Brazilian government’s condom-giveaway program could buy up all of the factory’s production. But think of how much more of the Amazonian rainforest could be preserved if more factories were built for overseas markets. That, however, would require some branding and marketing efforts to win customers for these high-priced condoms.

Suggested brand name:“The Natural”? Or, playing on the competition’s references to Greek mythology, there could be a brand for women buyers called “Amazon’s Shield”. Suggested slogan: “When you wear a rubber, be sure it’s rubber!”

By the way, there’s no word on whether natural-rubber condoms are carbon neutral or cruelty free. And please don’t ask whether they’re recyclable.

Retire the bear
Industry, government, environmentalists, and scientists agree that northern Arizona’s ponderosa pine forests have “too many trees” and that the solution is selective logging, according to Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute.

The various parties have agreed on a forest-restoration project that aims “to restore ecological and economic health by reducing fire danger and protecting communities, returning our forests and rangelands to a healthier condition that can function with low-intensity natural fire, and providing opportunities to create jobs and stimulate local economies." The stakeholders blame “past fire suppression policies” for causing the forests to be packed with high densities of small-diameter trees that are prone to uncontrollable fires.

I blame the bear. Smokey the Bear.

For decades, his stern “Only YOU can prevent forest fires” has brainwashed Americans from the toddler stage on up that forest fires are bad and are caused by bad people. The result is that we have tried to stamp out every fire.

Fire, especially in the American West, is a natural and important process that thins underbrush and small trees and enables certain species to thrive. It’s time for Smokey to take a hike – though he might have a hard time finding a path through all the trees.

Ban Laura Ingalls Wilder Books
Speaking of brainwashing and forest fires, we’ve got to keep our kids away from Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Every year, thousands read Little House in the Big Woods and decide they too want a little house in the big woods when they grow up.

Having all of those little houses in the big woods (not to mention Big McMansions in the Little Forest) creates political pressure to fight every forest fire rather than letting nature take its course.

If you want the truth on climate change, follow the money
One way to cut through all of the debate about global climate change is to see how businesses are placing their bets, notes "Betting on Change" at the excellent new Web site The Climate Desk (a collaboration of several prominent media outlets, including The Atlantic, Wired, and Mother Jones magazines).

“If a firm's bottom line is going to be affected by a changing climate—say, when its supply chains dry up because of drought, or its real estate gets swamped by sea-level rise—then it doesn't particularly matter whether or not the executives want to believe in climate change.”

The article then goes on to show how a variety of businesses and industries have already demonstrated – through adaptations, investments, insurance purchases, and the like – that they believe the problem is real.

Use less recycled paper
Paper-industry analyst Verle Sutton recently pointed out that several North American newsprint mills that relied on recycled pulp have been driven out of business by the high price of recycled paper. One culprit is the push by some environmental groups to include recycled content in high-quality papers, which is actually bad for the environment.

“Utilizing recycled fiber in packaging, and the lower quality paper grades (as well as insulation and other industrial applications) is much, much more environmentally healthy than utilizing this fiber in higher quality grades,” he writes. For more on why such “up-cycling” is not a good idea, see I'm an environmental idiot!

(Because Sutton mentions the FutureMark coated-paper mill near Chicago, I should pass along some explanatory information provided by my readers: Much of the mill's fiber comes from unsold magazines and waste from nearby web printers, so it’s not up-cycled. The rest comes from Chicago-area curbside collections, so to some extent the relatively low carbon footprint of transporting the fiber makes up for the up-cycling.)

Eat less fried chicken
The environmental group Dogwood Alliance recently launched the Kentucky Fried Forest campaign because it alleges that KFC's “paper packaging is directly contributing to the destruction of our Southern forests.” KFC is targeted because it “is one of the major purchasers from International Paper,” which is “notorious for business-as-usual destructive forest management practices” in the U.S. South.

Dogwood Alliance needs to answer a few questions (see the subsequent response from its campaign coordinator) before I’ll start urging people to boycott the Colonel:
  • Would it prefer that KFC use Styrofoam “clamshells” and other non-biodegradable packaging materials, as some other fast-food restaurants do?
  • To what extent is the alleged trouble occurring in forests that IP manages as opposed to non-IP forests that merely sell to IP? IP sold off much of its forestry operations several years ago.
  • What would happen to those Southern forests if IP stopped using their trees? Would they be converted to agriculture or housing developments? Or to other species of tree? (And, by the way, can rubber trees grow in the South? If so, here’s a suggested brand name for condoms made of GEN-yoo-INE Southern rubber: “Rebel Yell”).

1 comment:

Lindsey Simerly said...

I am the campaign organizer for Dogwood Alliance and I am happy to answer your questions about our Kentucky Fried Forests campaign. Our main goals are protection of Southern forests, but we are not advocating for Styrofoam or other non-biodegradable as an alternative. What are asking for immediate and substantive steps towards a credible sustainable packaging policy, including:

•Reducing the overall packaging for your products
•Increasing the use of post-consumer recycled paper in your packaging
•Where recycled paper is not available, making sure your paper originates from well-managed forests as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

You are absolutely right that IP no longer owns much land in the South. However, we believe in holding IP accountable for the supply chain impacts of its business operations.. The fact that IP doesn't own land is irrelevant in the 21st Century as more and more consumers (corporate and individual) want to know where their products come from and what the impacts are. Whether its customers wanting to ensure that the clothing they buy isn't coming from sweat shops employing kids in China, that their energy isn;t coming from mountaintop removal or their paper coming from destroyed forests, corporations around the world are now being held accountable for the environmental and human rights impacts of their business decisions. Not owning the factory or the coal fields or the forest is no longer any justification for serious negative impacts.

IP is by far the largest paper producer in the Southern US and world. As such a huge economic driver in the region, it has a responsibility to ensure that the profits it makes do not come at the expense of our environment and local communities. Other paper companies such as AbitibiBowater and Domtar are doing their part to improve forestry practices on private lands where they source fiber for their products and IP can do the same.

Also, currently landowners don't receive adequate value for maintaining forests. We believe the solution is to increase the value of keeping ecosystems in tact. See our new Carbon Canopy initiative for more information. Landowners should get paid more to log less and protect their forests. We're not there yet, but it is the wave of the future.