Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Orange You Glad (WARNING: Soapbox Alert)

TWENTY-FIVE percent of all Western pharmaceuticals are derived from ingredients originally found in rainforests; and yet, only 1% of rainforest plants have been explored for medical purposes.

Kind of makes you wonder what's there, just waiting to be discovered... right?

Well. At the current rate of destruction, there won't be much. In fact, 137 plant, animal and insect species — indigenous to the Amazon rainforest — become extinct every day. And this, often in the name of North American consumerism.

And so, to those of you who give me strange looks when I tell you that, though I love orange juice, I only drink varieties from Florida's Natural and Trader Joe's:

  • More than 20% of the world's oxygen is produced by the Amazon Rainforest. Not only do they help us breathe, but they help cut down on greenhouse gases
  • More than half of all of the Earth's plant, animal and insect species inhabit tropical rainforests.
  • 70% of all plants confirmed to have properties that fight cancer growth originate in rainforests
And yet:
  • 1.5 acres of rainforest are destroyed every second; 150 acres every minute; and 200,000 acres a day
  • The number of rainforests from 1950 to 2005 was reduced by half — during this same period, the number of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere skyrocketed (remember, the trees absorb CO2 and exhale O2)
  • At the current rate of deforestation, the last remaining rainforests are expected to disappear in 40 years
  • Rainforests cannot be regrown
  • Rainforests are typically destroyed for the following reasons: timber harvesting, cattle-grazing, and crop-growing. American companies that grow oranges for orange juice are a serious culprit here (Ah, there's the rub! And take that, store employee who gave me a weird look today when I asked if you were just out of Florida's Natural, or if you'd stopped carrying it)
  • Rainforests that are destroyed to grow crops (mainly: oranges -- just in case you weren't paying attention) only remain viable for a few years before the land is too dry to be of use to any crop (including the lush wildlife that was once indigenous to it). The land resembles dried up mud cakes (see below) and lacks any of the nutrients needed to sustain any plant or animal life — hence the "need" to burn down more land for companies to graze their cattle or grow their oranges
  • Rainforest land is ridiculously inexpensive to purchase; add to that the soil is rich in nutrients for 1-5 years (before it completely dries up), and it's a cheap way for companies to grow various fruits, ultimately laying waste to land that was full of rich resources that could've been explored & harvested for medicinal purposes without damaging the ecosystem

1-5 Years after Clearing

So that, Mr. "You're-So-Freakin'-Weird," is why I only buy two brands of Orange Juice.

How do I know Florida's Natural and Trader Joe's are safe? Others may be as well; I just haven't discovered them yet. I do know, however, that I haven't purchased Minute Maid or Tropicana in over a decade — they both list Brazil and/or Costa Rica on their labels.

And because of the frequency of destruction in the name of orange growth, it's fairly easy to determine whether or not your OJ (or any fruit product, for that matter) is rainforest friendly: just look on the label. If it says all of the oranges were grown in the U.S. (mainly, Florida), then it's rainforest friendly. If it mentions places like "Brazil" or "Costa Rica" (in place of or in addition to Florida), then you're dealing with a company whose practices are contributing to a very serious problem.*

Besides, when enough people participate in a boycott... it can work.

*Just so you don't think I'm a complete nut**, I do believe there such a thing as a healthy, eco-friendly clearing of forests — particularly deciduous forests whereby older trees are removed while they're still good for building but otherwise nearing the end of their life. Especially when new trees are planted to keep the cycle going.

**Regardless of whether or not I am one. Because I am.


Stacy said...

I never buy orange juice and now i never will. These pictures are truly disturbing.You are a very effective soap boxer. Can you take over my rant site that i keep screwing up?

Anonymous said...

OK, this is where I chime in with "The best thing that could happen to this planet would be the extinction of just one, ONE! species. And at the rate they are going, they will be extinct before too long. Sadly, they are going to take a lot of species with them."

IMHO, the biggest threat to the world today is overpopulation by humans.

The earth isn't going anywhere. Humans are a blip and there have been many mass extinctions before. It is just going to take several million years after we are gone for things to become biodiverse again.

(How's that for nuts?)

Winter said...

Holy crap. I'm so ashamed. Seriously I can't believe you even talk to me at all knowning what I do for a living.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

I know what you do, I suppose, but I don't really know who you work for. I've been able to infer the industry, though.

In which case: the world needs timber. And there are good ways to get it. So it's all a matter of how ethical a company is about getting it. Some are quite eco-conscious, actually.

And if yours is bad about it (i.e. if they're clear-cutting rain forests in the Amazon), then look at it this way: you could work from within to transform their practices.

Michael K said...

You make a couple of great points here but the arguments that are made by the countries we are dealing with are mostly based on North Americans being huge hypocrites. We deforested the land and used it to grow crops whenever possible. We pay some farmers to let their fields lie unused to reduce the amount of grain on the market. Why not let that land be replanted with trees? Cuz the gov doesn't guarantee subsidizing those lands over long periods. That means that grain prices remain elevated and that 3rd world countries need to expand their own production so that they can afford the grain and the livestock raised on that grain. It's a fucking mess but farmers need to be able to survive in this country as well as abroad. I don't think we will see a solution until there is a global solution presented that our government will actually sign off on.

Beth said...

You taught me a few things; good post. Now I have to digest Michael K's comment, too.

Pamela said...

this made me very sad.
Our world is so complex, so beautiful , so resilient, and yet... so fragile.

I watched a special on Discovery (?) the other night about the amazon river. I learned so many amazing facts... like the Amazon has more species of fish in it then all the other bodies of water added together.

Lee said...

Thank you for an important, informative post. Humans have infested the planet.

Glencross said...

I new the rainforests were being eaten up at an alarming rate but I had no idea it had anything to do with oranges. I think the oranges we get in the UK are mostly from Spain - I'm going to check next time I buy them though.

Woodrow said...

200,000 acres a day is hard to wrap my feeble mind around. How is that possible?