February 2010


Whaling Worsens Carbon Release

By Victoria Gill, Science Reporter, BBC News, Portland

A century of whaling may have released more than 100 million tonnes, or a large forest's worth, of carbon into the atmosphere, scientists say.

Whales store carbon within their huge bodies and when they are killed, much of this carbon can be released.

US scientists revealed their estimate of carbon released by whaling at a major ocean sciences meeting in the US.

Dr Andrew Pershing from the University of Maine described whales as the "forests of the ocean".

Dr Pershing and his colleagues from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute calculated the annual carbon storing capacity of whales as they grew.

"Whales, like any animal or plant on the planet, are made out of a lot of carbon," he said.

"And when you kill and remove a whale from the ocean, that's removing carbon from this storage system and possibly sending it into the atmosphere."

He pointed out that, particularly in the early days of whaling, the animals were a source of lamp oil, which was burned, releasing the carbon directly into the air.

"And this marine system is unique because when whales die (naturally), their bodies sink, so they take that carbon down to the bottom of the ocean.

"If they die where it's deep enough, it will be (stored) out of the atmosphere perhaps for hundreds of years." 

Ocean Trees

In their initial calculations, the team worked out that 100 years of whaling had released an amount of carbon equivalent to burning 130,000 sq km of temperate forests, or to driving 128,000 Humvees continuously for 100 years.

"The idea would be to do a full accounting of how much carbon you could store in a fully populated stock of fish or whales" Dr Andrew Pershing, University of Maine

But he said that whales played an important role in storing and transporting carbon in the marine ecosystem.

Simply leaving large groups of whales to grow, he said, could "sequester" the greenhouse gas, in amounts that were comparable to some of the reforestation schemes that earn and sell carbon credits.

He suggested that a similar system of carbon credits could be applied to whales in order to protect and rebuild their stocks.

"The idea would be to do a full accounting of how much carbon you could store in a fully populated stock of fish or whales, and allow countries to sell their fish quota as carbon credits, "he explained.

"You could use those credits as an incentive to reduce the fishing pressure or to promote the conservation of some of these species."

Is bigger better?

Other scientists said that he had raised an exciting and interesting problem.

Professor Daniel Costa, a marine animal researcher from the University of California, Santa Cruz, told BBC news; "so many more groups are looking at the importance of these large animals in the carbon cycle.

"And it's one of those things that, when you look at it, you think; 'This is so obvious, why didn't we think of this before?'

Dr Pershing pointed out that whales, with their huge size, were more efficient than smaller animals at storing carbon.

He used the analogy of a small dog compared to a large dog.

"My wife's 6lb (2.7kg) toy poodle eats one cup of food per day and my dog, a 60lb standard poodle, eats five cups of food per day, he said.

"That's only five times as much food but my dog weighs ten times as much."

He said that the marine carbon credit idea could be applied to other very large marine animals, including endangered bluefin tuna and white sharks.

Dr Pershing said " these are huge and they are top predators, so unless they're fished they would be likely to take their biomass to the bottom of the ocean (when they die)."

The American Geophysical Union's Ocean Sciences meeting has been taking place this week in Portland, Oregon.



Orangutan Survival And The Shopping Trolley 

Many of the biscuits, margarines, breads, crisps and even bars of soap that consumers pick off supermarket shelves contain an ingredient that is feeding a growth industry that conservationists say is killing the orangutans.

The mystery ingredient in the mix is Palm Oil - the cheapest source of vegetable oil available and one that rarely appears on the label of most products.

Palm Oil is grown on land that was once home to the vast rainforests of Borneo and the natural habitat of the orangutan.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that the population has declined by 50% in recent decades and the Indonesian government admits that 50,000 orangutans have died as a result of de-forestation.

A BBC Panorama investigation into clear-cutting in Indonesian Borneo, the island it shares with Malaysia, found that the thirst for land on which to plant Palm plantations is encroaching on areas that the Indonesian government has deemed to be off limits. 

Nuisance - 

The orangutans, displaced as the trees of old growth forests are burned and at times killed by workers who see them as a nuisance in the logging process, are not the only victims of the runaway growth in Palm Oil, scientists say there is a wider environmental price being paid.

Greenpeace has identified the draining of ancient peat lands to make way for Palm Oil as a global threat, saying it had lead to massive amounts of trapped methane and carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.

As a result, Indonesia is the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind only America and China.

Using GPS technology and satellite imaging, the BBC team pinpointed exact locations where Palm Oil giant the Duta Palma Group is logging on both high conservation lands and deep peat lands, both are illegal.

Shailendra Yashwant, Greenpeace director for Southeast Asia, said this illegal logging is widespread and includes major suppliers to the UK's food and household product market.

"We want the Indonesian government to immediately announce a moratorium on further deforestation...beginning with peat lands."

Willie Smits, a former advisor to the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry turned environmental campaigner, said of the findings: "This is criminal, this should not take place. It means there is no hope left for the most endangered sub-species of the orangutan in west Kalamantan."

He said the wider environmental issue of greenhouse gases can no longer be overlooked by both manufacturers and everyday consumers.

"This is not just a matter for Indonesia to decide, this is a matter for the world."

Greenwash - 

The Palm industry, valued at £5bn ($7.7bn) for Indonesia, is the country's third biggest export earner.

Many of the big manufacturers who buy that oil via European Wholesalers say that while they are starting to find oil from sustainable sources, they are not yet in a position to trace the origin of all of the oil they use.

Currently, only 3% of the world's palm oil is certified sustainable, meaning it comes from plantations that pass an environmental and social impact test.

Many have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) scheme set up to promote certification of where palm oil originates.

Others have set ambitious goals to use sustainable oil by 2015 or earlier, but Greenpeace's Shailendra Yashwant said the RSPO amounts to a 'greenwash' because those commitments are unenforceable on the ground.

Bulk oil from a variety of plantations including that of Duta Palma Group that the BBC found to be illegally clear-cutting is mixed together and shipped around the world and sold on to manufacturers behind everyday products.

Duta Palma declined to comment on the BBC's evidence of illegal deforestation.

Consumer Pressure - Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told Panorama the time is right for consumers to put pressure on manufacturers, demanding to know which of their products contain Palm Oil and assurances that it comes from a sustainable source.

Current labelling laws allow manufacturers to list Palm Oil as 'Vegetable Oil' without singling out the Palm Oil content.

Many manufacturers including industry giants Unilever and Proctor and Gamble, say their recipes can change and the amounts and types of oils they use can vary from week to week, making more detailed labels unworkable.

However, Sainsbury's supermarkets had earlier taken the decision to not only single out Palm Oil on the ingredients lists of their own brand products, but to state directly that it is from a sustainable source.

Recently Unilever, the UK's largest user of Palm Oil in products that range from Dove soap to Pot Noodles, Knorr soups and Flora, terminated a large contract with a supplier called Sinar Mas, because of reports it was destroying high conservation value forests.

Unilever has told Panorama that while it may have used oil from Duta Palma in the past, it intends to overcome its supply system problems so that it no longer uses oil from the producer.

Secretary Benn said, "I think it's really about what consumers can do because the most powerful message that can be sent to companies is from their consumers about what it is they want to buy," he told reporter Raphael Rowe, citing the demand for free range eggs in the UK as an example of consumer influence.

Mr Benn said the participation by UK retailers and manufacturers in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is a step towards ensuring that Palm Oil is traceable and therefore increases the chances that it can be certified sustainable.

Palm oil products in your weekly shop. 

To help you understand Palm Oil ingredients that go into your shopping trolley, Rainforests are mostly illegally cut down and burnt and orangutans slaughtered and burnt. Companies that are mostly using Non Certified Palm Oil in their products:

Cadbury, Clover (Dairy Crest), Young's (Findus), Ginsters, Haribo, Aunt Bessie's Roast Potatoes (Heinz), Crunchy Nut Clusters (Kelloggs), Mars, Nestle, Goodfella's Pizza, Chicago Town Pizza, Proctor & Gamble (Pringles), Premier Foods, Vanish, Unilver, Warburtons, Wrigley, Sainsbury's, Asda, Aldi, Tesco, Waitrose, The Co-Operative, Birds Eye, Marks & Spencer.


Rudd Urged To Support Ban On Whalers Spy Flights

Thursday 4th February 2010 7:46am AEDT

The Federal Opposition is calling on the Government to support new legislation which would ban Japanese whalers from using Australian planes to spy on protesters.

It has been revealed Japanese whalers have been chartering Australian planes to track the activity of anti-whaling ships in the Southern Ocean.

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt says legislation to ban Japanese whalers using Australian services will be introduced by the Greens into Parliament today.

He says the Government should join the Coalition in supporting the bill.

"Planes are taking off from Australian airports to support Japanese whaling, to capture information, to spy on protesters," he said.

"It's time to end the practice of spy flights in support of Japanese whaling in Australian waters.

"It is time to make it absolutely clear that Australia should not be a platform for spy flights in support of Japanese whaling. The challenge for the Prime Minister is to live up to his word and support this legislation as well."

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says it is unacceptable that whalers are able to use Australian resources to monitor anti-whaling ships.

"We need to make sure the law is absolutely clear, that Australian resources cannot be used for that [and that] boats involved in whaling operations are banned from our ports," she said.

"The Australian Government says it is acting to try and stop whaling, but one of the activities they can do to help stop whaling is to ensure that no Australian resources are used to aid whaling."

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