Military

Organized Crime Helps Drive Environmental Devastation In the Tropics

November 17, 2021Coffee or Die
As one of the largest timber importers in the world, the US represents a lucrative market for illegal suppliers. Preventing illegal shipments from entering the US cuts off a major revenue stream for transnational criminal organizations. Customs and Border Protection photo.

As one of the largest timber importers in the world, the US represents a lucrative market for illegal suppliers. Preventing illegal shipments from entering the US cuts off a major revenue stream for transnational criminal organizations. Customs and Border Protection photo.

Every year the world loses an estimated 25 million acres (10 million hectares) of forest, an area larger than the state of Indiana. Nearly all of it is in the tropics.


Tropical forests store enormous quantities of carbon and are home to at least two-thirds of the world’s living species, so deforestation has disastrous consequences for climate change and conservation. Trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, slowing its buildup in the atmosphere – but when they are burned or logged, they release their stored carbon, fueling further warming. Tropical forest loss generates nearly 50% more greenhouse gases than does the global transportation sector.


At the 2021 U.N. conference on climate change in Glasgow, more than 100 world leaders pledged on Nov. 1 to halt deforestation by 2030. In the Declaration on Forests and Land Use, countries outlined their strategy, which focuses on supporting trade and development policies that promote sustainable production and consumption. Governments and private companies have pledged over US$19.2 billion to support these efforts.


From my research on social and environmental issues in Latin America, I know that four consumer goods are responsible for the majority of global deforestation: beef, soy, palm oil, and wood pulp and paper products. Together these commodities are responsible for the loss of nearly 12 million acres (5 million hectares) annually. There’s also a fifth, less publicized key driver: organized crime, including illegal drug trafficking.


In the tropics


The dominant role of beef


Among major products that promote deforestation, beef is in a class by itself. Beef production is now estimated to be the biggest driver of deforestation worldwide, accounting for 41% of global forest losses. In the Amazon alone, cattle ranching accounts for 80% of deforestation. From 2000 to 2011, beef production emitted nearly 200 times more greenhouse gases than soy, and 60 times more than oil palm in tropical countries with high deforestation rates.


Beef is produced in many countries, but it mainly drives forest losses in Latin America. On the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa and the plains of the U.S. Midwest, cattle graze without directly contributing to deforestation.


However, beef production in these regions indirectly contributes to deforestation by increasing demand for soy-based feed. Cattle production worldwide also drives climate change because cattle emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas.




Soy and palm oil: Ubiquitous ingredients


Together, soy and palm oil drive nearly 10% of deforestation annually – almost 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares).


Clearing land for palm oil plantations fuels large-scale rainforest destruction in Indonesia and Malaysia, where most of the world’s palm oil is produced, destroying habitat for endangered and threatened species such as orangutans, elephants and tigers. More recently, palm oil production has expanded to other parts of Asia, Central and South America and Central and West Africa.


Palm oil is the most commonly produced, consumed and traded vegetable oil. Some 60% of the 66 million tons produced globally every year is used to produce energy in the form of biofuel, power and heat. About 40% is used for food, animal feed and chemical products. Palm oil is an ingredient in half of all products found at the supermarket, including margarine, shampoos, frozen pizza and detergents.


Soy production has doubled globally in the past 20 years. Nearly 80% of global soy is fed to cows, chickens, pigs and farmed fish. This demand reflects the tripling of global meat production over the past 50 years.










In the tropics












Coffee or Die
Coffee or Die

Coffee or Die is Black Rifle Coffee Company’s online lifestyle magazine. Launched in June 2018, the magazine covers a variety of topics that generally focus on the people, places, or things that are interesting, entertaining, or informative to America’s coffee drinkers — often going to dangerous or austere locations to report those stories.

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