Last summer I was working at a green summer camp near the colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala, which– aside from being one of Central America’s tourism hotspots– is world- famous for producing some of the best coffee in the world.
In Antigua, the temperature is just right all the time, the altitude is spot-on and those rich volcanic soils from all sides blend together to make a knock-out cup of java. That’s why Guatemala, particularly Antigua, has become a buzzword in coffeehouses ranging from Seattle to Hong Kong and Moscow to New York.
To my coffee-loving delight, the Green Camp at which I was working was located on the grounds of a freshly opened school inside of one of Antigua’s most well-known coffee fincas: Azotea. In fact, the little plot of land that the camp was given to build a garden demonstrating permaculture principles was surrounded by coffee trees.
Everything seemed peachy keen. But, in reality, Central American coffee farmers are suffering greatly of late, all due to a fungal disease called “la roya” (the rust). Unfortunately, some 50% of the harvest is being lost each year, which equates to millions of bags of coffee.
Elephants in Africa, particularly in Tanzania, have faced a devastating population drop in recent years. This is primarily due to a rapid rise in elephant poachers killing them for their ivory tusks in order to meet the increasing demand in Asia.
The elephant population has diminished by nearly 60% in a matter of five years, according to National Geographic. In 2009, the population consisted of 109,051 elephants, but that number had dropped to 43,330 last year. Some suggest that this drop may be due to migration, but such a rapid population decrease can only be explained by increased poaching all across East and South Africa.
However, a slew of recent arrests, initiatives and policy changes suggest that the people of Tanzania– and around the world– are finally ready to take serious action to reduce elephant poaching.
In what The Guardian calls “the worst manmade environmental disaster since the BP gulf oil spill,” vast swaths of vital forests in Borneo and Sumatra are being consumed by fire. These fires were intentionally set by palm oil and paper companies, simply because slash & burn agriculture is the cheapest, fastest way to clear land for plantations.
But these fires in Indonesia– tens of thousands of them– are raging out of control due to record drought throughout the region. In places like Pematang Gadung and Sungai Besar, where the forests are filled with orangutans and other endangered species, some animals have died from smoke inhalation, while others have been poached or abducted into the illegal wildlife trade. But a precious few are being rescued by non-profit organizations such as International Animal Rescue.
But it’s not just animal life that’s endangered: The toxic haze from Indonesia’s fires has created a thick layer of smog over the entire country. The city of Palangkaraya has become one of the most polluted places on the planet, and locals are literally choking on the devastating effects of unchecked corporate greed. Experts believe the impact of carbon released from these burning peat forests on climate change will be catastrophic if something isn’t done soon.
“The problem with fire and smoke is absolutely dire,” says IAR communications manager Lis Key. “Orangutans are badly affected by the smoke. Some suffer upper respiratory tract infections, which can prove fatal. Some of the babies we’ve taken in recently have been suffering from dehydration and malnourishment through lack of food, as well as breathing problems from the polluted air.”
Last week IAR sent out a desperate plea for help drawing international attention to (and financial support for) their fire-fighting and orangutan rescue efforts. To get a boots-on-the-ground insider’s perspective on the struggle, we spoke to Karmele Llano Sanchez, Program Director of IAR’s Indonesian initiatives (Yayasan IAR Indonesia).
Barrier islands have proven to be popular vacation getaways for well over a century now, and with good reason.
Stellar views of sunlight glistening like gems on the ocean’s rolling waves, sandy beaches strewn with driftwood artfully sculpted by the sea, gulls and pelicans soaring over dunes lined with Sea Oats and Sea Grapes, hungry shorebirds hunting for fish in tidal flats, and golden light streaming through dense coastal forests provide welcome relief from the stress and strife of everyday life.
The unique ecosystems that can be found on these islands have been thriving with flora and fauna for countless eons. And there has been a remarkable interconnectivity between the land, the sea and the communities of people that live on and around them dating back well over 10,000 years, with each depending on the other to varying degrees.
What a week it is when the powers-that-be in the grand ol’ USA decide to take a leap towards greener energy!
We’ve become far too familiar with weak environmental policy efforts that involve pacing around, arguing over the validity of Climate Change, while fossil fuels continue to vaporize into greenhouse gases.
So this week’s revelation of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan was a monumental moment that will soon change our entire energy system… for real!