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Photo: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Cattle graze in pasture formed by cleared rainforest land in Pará, Brazil. A new online tool makes it easier for ethical food companies to detect this kind of land-clearing by their suppliers and stop the practice.

Some big food companies have promised not to be a party to the ongoing destruction of the rainforest, often called the lungs of Planet Earth. But how can they see what their distant suppliers may be up to?

Dan Charles at National Public (NPR) describes a promising approach.

“Brazilian scientists are reporting a sharp increase this year in the clearing of forests in the Amazon. That’s bad news for endangered ecosystems, as well as the world’s climate. Deforestation releases large amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide.

“It’s also a setback for big food companies that have pledged to preserve those forests — or at least to boycott suppliers that clear forests in order to raise crops or graze cattle.

” ‘Traders such as Cargill, Bunge, or Louis Dreyfus; consumer good manufacturers such as Mondelēz or Procter & Gamble or Unilever; retailers such as Walmart and McDonald’s — all the major brands have made those commitments,’ says Luiz Amaral, director of global solutions for commodities and finance at the World Resources Institute.

“Most of the companies promised to cut all links to deforestation by 2020, but … turns out, it’s really hard for companies to ensure that none of their raw materials came from recently cleared land.

“So Amaral and his colleagues just created a new online tool for companies to use. They call it Global Forest Watch Pro. …

“Amaral pulls up an image of the globe. This particular image shows which areas are covered by trees. … This map is created from data collected by satellites operated by NASA. One satellite scans the entire planet every week, constantly updating this map. So it’s possible to tell whether trees disappear from one week to the next. Another satellite monitors the entire globe for fires.

“Researchers at the University of Maryland created software to filter this flood of data and detect the signals of deforestation. …

” ‘I uploaded 22 cattle farms in Brazil,’ he says. These farms show up as highlighted areas in one region of Brazil. … With a few mouse clicks, we see how much of each farm is covered with trees and how that area has changed.

“He points out one 40,000-acre-farm. Half of it is covered in forests. But we can also see that, 15 years ago, the whole thing was forest. We zoom in closer. We can see exactly where trees disappeared in this part of Brazil. …

“In a similar way, a food company can enter the locations of farms from which it buys raw materials. Global Forest Watch Pro then will send an alert whenever it detects deforestation within that area.

“The company Mondelēz International, which makes Oreo cookies and Triscuit crackers, already is using it.

” ‘I think it’s actually extremely important,’ says Jonathan Horrell, the company’s director of global sustainability. … ‘Forests [are] being cut down in order to produce raw materials that we use in our products,’ he says. Those raw materials include palm oil from plantations in Indonesia, and cocoa farms in West Africa.

“Companies that want to use Global Forest Watch Pro have to figure out exactly where their suppliers are, and that can be difficult. …

“This is easier to do when companies buy food directly from local producers, as is often the case with cocoa and palm oil. In other cases, though, products move through a long chain of intermediary companies. Farmers who raise cattle may sell them to a local slaughterhouse, not directly to McDonald’s.”

But as NPR’s Charles explains, even local slaughterhouses can use the tool. Already WRI has signed up a slaughterhouse in Paraguay for an account. And I expect more will get on board as corporate commitments to cut carbon footprints exert economic pressure.

More here.

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Do you know about the “Great Animal Orchestra“? Rachel Donadio at the NY Times has the story.

“The bioacoustician and musician Bernie Krause has been recording soundscapes of the natural world since 1968, from coral reefs to elephant stamping grounds to the Amazonian rain forest.

“Now, Mr. Krause’s recordings have become part of an immersive new exhibition at the Cartier Foundation here called ‘The Great Animal Orchestra.’ Named after Mr. Krause’s 2012 book of the same title, the show opens on Saturday and runs through Jan. 8, [2017].

“At its heart is a work by the London-based collective United Visual Artists, who have transformed Mr. Krause’s recordings of the natural world into 3-D renderings. Imagine stepping into a soundproofed black-box theater whose walls spring to life with what look like overlapping electrocardiograms, representing different species’ sounds. …

“The installation includes recordings Mr. Krause made in Algonquin Park in Ontario, where he found himself caught between two packs of wolves; in the Yukon Delta, a subarctic area in Alaska, where birds from different continents converge; and in the Central African Republic, where he heard monkeys. He also captured the cacophony of the Amazon, and whales off Alaska and Hawaii. …

“Mr. Krause is a polymathic musician who performed with the folk group the Weavers and helped introduce the Moog synthesizer to pop music — including songs by the Doors and Van Morrison — and film scores. He hears natural sounds with a studio producer’s ear.”

Read more here about Krause and his efforts to get the word out on the disappearing habitats of his featured animals.

This article inspires me to pay better attention to the music of the natural world on my morning walks. So much beauty goes right over my head.

Photo: Tim Chapman
Bernie Krause on St. Vincent Island, Fla., in 2001.
 

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