The humble coca shrub has survived decades of efforts to eradicate it and global warming will not pose a greater challenge than that. Few cry for the cocaleros, isn’t it?
Cocaine is the bane of law enforcement across the Americas. But both the drug and the coca farmers – known in Spanish as cocaleros – who cultivate the drug’s source face the same threats as any other crop or product in our warming climate. Except that cocaine appears ready for the challenges.
The coca bush is the raw material for a lucrative and often-violent drug trade and the target of change, as cocaleros cut down forests in the Andean nations of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia to plant more of the shrubs.
But, while scientists have raised alarms about the potential threats climate change may pose to other tropical commodities like chocolate and coffee, little effort has been spent exploring what an era of rising temperatures could mean for coca. Most research in the past few decades has been aimed at finding new ways to kill it.
“There’s the beginnings of a more open debate about drug policy in the Western Hemisphere and Latin America, but the question of coca cultivation remains very prickly,” said John Walsh, a drug policy analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a U.S.-based think tank. “Obviously, because it’s the raw material for cocaine, and cocaine remains if not pubic enemy No. 1, then pretty high on the list in most people’s point of view.”
In general, the coca belt is expected to be hotter and drier in the coming century. Average temperatures could rise by as much as 4 degrees Celsius (7.2º Fahrenheit) by 2100, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in late March. Areas closer to the equator are expected to get more rainfall, while those to the north and south are expected to get less. The glaciers of the tropical Andes are receding, and the ranges of many plants are shifting upward toward cooler, higher elevations, the IPCC noted.
But the coca bush is a tough plant, one that’s likely to adapt to the expected changes, say several scientists who’ve studied cocaine.
“Coca is kind of unique, because it’s got a very heavy wax cuticle, a layer on the leaves,” said Charles Helling, a former soil chemist at U.S. Department of Agriculture who took part in American anti-drug efforts. “So that tends to protect it from water loss. It’s a pretty hardy shrub. It’s actually a lot hardier than a typical crop plant.”
Neither the Drug Enforcement Agency nor the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime nor the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, an arm of the Organization of American States, have examined the potential effects of climate change on the crop, representatives of those agencies said. UNODC spokeswoman Preeta Bannerjee said her agency uses satellites to monitor coca-growing areas, “but we don’t measure the impact on the environment,” she said.
Observers are already seeing a longer dry season in places like subtropical Peru, said Kenneth Young, a University of Texas geographer who has studied the country for more than 20 years. But he said coca already has adapted to as little as 500 mm, or 20 inches, of rainfall a year – about the same as Boulder, Colo. Mostly coca grows in areas that today receive between three and four times that amount.
“It’s a wet, tropical forest plant, and making it a little bit drier is not going to dramatically change it,” he said. And if coca bushes do dry up, the cocaleros are likely to seek out a variety “that’s a little more robust.”
And Helling said warming may not only do little to hurt the crop, it might open up more space to grow it at higher elevations. But on the whole, he predicted that climate change will be a wash when it comes to cocaine, as growers adapt to less rainfall by relying more on irrigation.
“I’ve seen some amazing, shall we say, agronomic setups down in Colombia particularly,” said Helling, who worked for the State Department’s anti-drug office in Colombia for three years after retiring from the USDA in 2007.
One coca farm he studied in Colombia was a former cattle ranch, “more of the kind of place where cacti were. But you could grow coca perfectly well if you irrigated it.” And if warmer temperatures led to a higher risk of disease or insect infestation, “growers will undoubtedly use more chemicals to prevent it,” he said.
Some indigenous South American populations still use coca for medicinal purposes – particularly in Bolivia, led by former cocalero Evo Morales. It’s chewed or brewed into a tea, often offered to visitors struggling with the high altitude.
Under Morales, Bolivia has allowed limited, legal coca cultivation while cracking down on illicit crops. In June, UNODC reported that Bolivia’s coca production shrank by 9 percent in 2013 and was down 26 percent in the past three years.
But though traditional uses persist, UNODC says most of the South American coca crop ends up as cocaine on the streets of Europe and North America, where it’s long been a favored pick-me-up of the rich and the scourge of the inner-city poor.
Marshall Rancifer knows the latter well. He’s a former crack cocaine addict who’s now an anti-drug counselor and outreach director for the Atlanta nonprofit Someone Cares. His job involves seeking out current users and prostitutes who turn tricks to support their habits.
He doesn’t think climate change will make a dent in the drug supply in Atlanta. But if it does, he says, watch out: Previous supply droughts have been ugly.
“It’s happened before, when big shipments get busted or for whatever reason supply gets low,” said Rancifer.
“Demand is always high, and then they start cutting the dope down” – diluting the product with anything from baking soda to baby laxative. The temptation to boost the adulterated drug’s potency is high, he said.
“Sometimes they get very inventive and put other stuff in the dope, so you get the sense that you’re not losing anything when you’re getting high,” he said. “That’s where we start having a lot of overdose deaths.”
And then there are the shootings.
“You see an uptick in violence because people are not getting the high that they expected,” Rancifer said. Addicts get angry with dealers, who move in on rivals’ corners, “and then you’ve got a drug turf war.”
“Nothing good comes out of a shortage of dope when it comes to people using and selling,” Rancifer said.
The money is likely to keep the cocaleros in business, even if it takes more effort to produce a crop. If someone’s buying cocaine, someone will be growing coca, said Walsh, the drug policy analyst.
“The main driver is there is global demand, and it is fully a globalized transnational industry,” he said. The United States and other countries have tried spraying herbicides on coca fields and encouraging Andean peasants to grow other crops, but coca “provides a better return than say, plantains,” he added.
And if climate change hurts other sectors of the economy, it could drive more people to start growing coca. That’s what happened in Bolivia in the 1980s, when the country’s tin mining industry went bust: Miners and their families moved to the country’s Chapare region and took up coca farming. It’s easy to grow, can be cultivated several times a year and the market “almost comes to them,” Walsh said.
But at this point, there’s little that can be said authoritatively about how coca itself may fare. Helling, the retired USDA soil chemist, said that if climate change accomplished what decades of eradication efforts didn’t, “nobody would be shedding any tears.”
But if the weather did change enough to affect coca, he cautioned, “there are a host of legal crops we’ll have to be worrying about more.”
First published by the Daily Climate e-journal.
Covid-19 crisis and Earth Hour: An opportunity to reflect on the deteriorating health of the planet
Earth Hour 2020 on Saturday 28 March presents a unique opportunity this year: shining a light on biodiversity loss and climate change during the coronavirus outbreak. All of us will be able to share our voices and concern for nature by observing Earth Hour from home – to ensure social distancing – turning off all non-essential lights at 8:30 p.m. By doing so, we draw attention to the climate and biodiversity crisis globally. Meantime, the coronavirus pandemic crisis which should keep most of us at home also offers a chance to reimagine our approaches to managing and valuing natural resources in the future.
In the past months, we all witnessed shocking news about the devastating fires in Australia and the Amazon, and these were just two of the most recent examples of the crisis we are facing. 2019 has been a critical and unprecedented year for nature as global carbon emissions reached unparalleled levels, the artic continued to melt, and global temperature rise set new records on every continent.
It is ironic to think, then, that nature and the new coronavirus pandemic are closely interconnected. Our voracious demand for crops, timber and other resources has led, and still leads to the degradation and destruction of entire landscapes, causing disruptions to natural ecosystems and loss of biodiversity. This encroachment into natural frontiers means that animal-human interactions now exist which did not previously, enabling pathogens formerly exclusive to animal species to jump to a new, unsuspecting, human host. It is now well understood that many emerging infectious diseases, such as the novel Covid-19, originate from animals. Habitat destruction further exacerbated by climate change and fuelled by economic growth is, therefore, providing the perfect opportunity for new disease emergence.
Likewise, scientists and others have long been alerting us to the climate crisis, and in particular, its need for a swift and effective response. A fundamental piece of the puzzle in that response is tackling deforestation and restoring forests.
Yet the climate emergency hasn’t received the same sort of urgent and immediate response which the new coronavirus emergency has. For instance, many of the world’s biggest brands are set to fail to meet their 2020 deforestation commitments, despite making clear their ambition for sustainable supply chains.
In stark parallel, we’ve been jolted into almost immediate action by continuous information flows about the coronavirus outbreak, with its effects on entire countries and their populations serving as a signal for action to governments and individuals, even if they themselves weren’t yet experiencing its effects.
When facing the new coronavirus crisis, everyone has a role to play – governments have had to quickly develop and implement new policies; many organisations have had to transition into remote ways of working; and individual actions have, more than ever before, been crucial for the wider public good, with individuals being forced to completely change their daily routines in an effort to protect those in high-risk groups.
It has been very encouraging to see how communities, industry and individuals have rallied together over the last weeks to support each other, focusing on the things that really matter in order to maintain some sense of order and joint ambition to tackle the crisis.
Perhaps the global system had reached breaking point, like a computer system overloading with processes running alongside each other without being able to connect and coordinate. Perhaps it was time to shut down and reboot. Whatever the reason, we should see this as a chance to rethink and reimagine our approaches to managing natural resources. How we interact. What really is of value to us. It is time to pause and reflect on how to be the best stewards for a healthy and resilient planet.
We all question what the long-term economic effects of the pandemic will be. Early analyses from China show a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. But will efforts to revive the global economy reverse this effect and accelerate the destruction of natural ecosystems – and in turn climate change – in a race to make up for the economic losses endured? Experts are warning that efforts to combat climate change could be jeopardised by compromising global investments in clean energy and weakening industry environmental goals such as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly, it will be key for governments, industry and the private sector to enact green growth policies and realise the interconnectivity of human, economic and natural systems that determine planetary health.
We have all the necessary tools to help support our planets tenuous life support system which is untenably our own: to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and not just halt but reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss. So, let’s reimagine how society works, from human interaction to political and economic infrastructure, and from natural resource management and ecosystem protection to life on land.
As Landscape News reported recently: “Procrastination, short-termism and scientific denial are the hallmarks of our inaction on climate change – but the coronavirus provides an opportunity for us to kick those long-standing habits.”
As our life on land navigates an uncertain period, we must learn to replicate the same responses to Coronavirus to the climate emergency. This crisis must remind us of the delicate balance within the natural world so that we can turn this systemic threat into an opportunity to ensure our own wellbeing.
A version first published in Business Green 20 March
Post-coronavirus crisis looming for the environment
The rapid outbreak of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, among countries around the world is not only a huge challenge for the public health, but the environment will also bear its dire consequences.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people and others only infect animals. Very rarely have animal coronaviruses infected and spread between people. This is what’s suspected to have happened for the virus that has caused the outbreak of the current severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, known as SARS-CoV-2. This is the virus that causes the coronavirus disease 2019, COVID-19, according to the Conversation website.
Worldwide, more than 93,000 people have been infected and at least 3,100 have died, predominantly in China, where the coronavirus originated in late December. However, the virus appears now to be spreading much more rapidly outside the Asian country, WHO reported.
Since Wednesday, with over 2,990 infections, deaths in Iran surged to 92.
The global spread of the new type of virus triggered demand for face masks, disposable gloves, and detergents.
Hazardous waste generation
Binge fear buying was clearly cited as people rushed to pharmacies to lay their hands on either N95 or a simple surgical face mask to protect themselves, the wave even reached medical gloves and detergents.
Many manufacturing companies has gone into overdrive to produce more such personal protection equipment; despite epidemiologists and infectious disease experts have been at pains to emphasize against a scramble for face masks in recent weeks.
However, people have not yet stopped panic buying face masks and other equipment to protect themselves from the fast-spreading coronavirus; with many negligently tossing their used face masks and gloves on the streets.
While an exact shelf life time period is dependent on what specific material the gloves are made of, a general rule is three years for disposable natural latex gloves and up to five years for disposable nitrile gloves.
That means more and more waste ends up in the landfills despite the environmental threat these kind of hazardous waste can cause both for the environment and people.
Antiseptics: double-edged swords
Detergents are the second choice for people to prevent novel coronavirus
infection, and these days many consumers are rushing to get these items from
stores and shopping malls.
Detergents with certain compounds can be harmful to health as much as they can relieve people of disease.
Excessive consumption of detergents is a risk factor for environment in addition to water and soil resources; wastewater from these substances enters our life cycle and can come up with a health hazard, Mohammad Khaleqi, head of Bojnourd department of environment told IRNA on Wednesday.
There is no doubt that the environment is affected by the excessive use of detergents, so people are expected to be careful not to damage nature when taking care of their health, he added.
Until recently, it was widely believed that antiseptics do not cause any harm, and do not affect human health or the environment. However, after conducting numerous studies and tests, some of their risks which can be caused by the excessive use of household antiseptics have emerged.
Some of these risks include affecting the environment, where it has become clear that some of the substances used in household antiseptics, especially aerosols, may contaminate the air. In addition, they are dangerous if applied to the skin continuously; though they eliminate harmful organisms, they also kill useful microorganisms located under the layers of the skin, which helps the cells to renew and wounds to heal.
Moreover, a recent American study has revealed a major surprise that might make using antiseptics a real public health hazard. The study revealed that they help creating advanced types of germs and bacteria that are difficult to eradicate, according to the Biblex website.
40% rise in water consumption
Following outbreak of the coronavirus in Iran, water consumption has climbed up due to hand washing and cleaning possessions, ISNA reported.
Furthermore, Norouz (Persian New Year) is approaching and every year during the same period water consumption rate increases because home cleaning is at its peak; but water consumption in Tehran raised by 14 percent, which is unusually high.
In normal conditions, however, average water consumption in Tehran is 2.5 times more than the global average, so the infectious disease has only made a bad situation worse.
Increasing consumption in the past few days has led to water pressure in some areas in Tehran and other provinces of the country as some of the cities faced cuts.
Kerman province’s Water and Wastewater Company announced that the outbreak of coronavirus has increased water consumption in Kerman city by 40 percent.
A 15 percent increase in water consumption in Ahvaz city is another report published by the news agencies in recent days.
Panic, not the way to survive
Given the climate change pressures, if the condition continues, environmental damages are likely to add insult to injury; and there can be a post-coronavirus crisis globally.
Governments needs to be more vigilant on waste disposal and defining strict rules on discarded medical equipment in the urban areas, fining the violators would come efficient in some cases.
Make people more aware of the time when they have to use face masks and other self-protection equipment.
People must also be more cautious in emergency situations, not to be easily effected by fear but to broad their vision to the future and act more sensible.
From our partner Tehran Times
EU fertilizer regulations: What are the consequences for the European food chain?
European food security is at risk from well-meaning, but problematic regulations representing elements of the European Union’s Circular Economy Package 2018. While capping cadmium content in phosphate fertilisers is being touted as a matter of public health, the absence of supporting science, incoherent policy, and the hazardous market consequences are being negligently overlooked. Partially to blame may be the misleading arguments pushed by environmental and industrial lobbies.
The European Union (EU) is increasingly dependent on non-member countries supplying its various needs. When it comes to vital fertiliser, the EU depends on imports for approximately 85% of its phosphate (P2O5). In 2017 most phosphate came from Morocco (1.8Mt), Russia (1.6Mt), Algeria (0.7Mt), Israel, and South Africa. Phosphate is crucial to industrial food production. The fewer phosphate exporters to the EU there are the less competition there is: prices will inevitably rise as a result.
The restrictions proposed in the EU aim to limit the amount of cadmium permitted in phosphate fertilisers. Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal. Present as an impurity in phosphate, it can enter crops and soil through fertilisers. As part of the Circular Economy Package, the Commission proposed an initial cadmium limit of 60mg/kg P2O5, for three years, sliding down to 40mg/kg after nine years, and 20mg/kg after 12 years.
The European Parliament has suggested a final limit of 20mg/kg P2O5 after 12 years while the EU Council’s initial position is a limit of 60mg/kg P2O5 after 8 years.
As a quirk of geology, the phosphate rocks extracted in different regions have differing levels of impurities, like cadmium. This means that the lower the upper limit, the fewer territories that can realistically supply viable phosphate. Notably, at present the phosphate industry maintains that decadmiation is neither technologically nor financially possible.
Problems with the science
Crucially, the science that various EU authorities believe supports their position is hotly contested. The Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER), confirmed there was no accumulation of cadmium in soils when fertilisers have an average of 80 mg/kg P2O5, revised to 73mg/kg P2O5 after taking into account new worst-case scenarios. In either case, this is above the limits pushed by the EU authorities, and the difference between the SCHER average figure and the EU maximum limit is equally significant.
“There is substantial uncertainty with respect to the effects of cadmium in fertilizer on cadmium accumulations in humans,” argue agricultural economists Justus Wessler and Dušan Drabik. According to their findings “cadmium concentration in soils in the EU is declining” and therefore “maximum limits on cadmium, voluntary or mandatory, will increase cost without generating additional benefits,”.
These findings are echoed by researchers for the Swiss Centre for Applied Human Toxicology (SCAHT), who conclude that the “use of P
fertiliser at current levels will not lead to soil accumulation of cadmium, and thus there will be no increase human exposure to cadmium.”
Even the European Commission’s own impact assessment found that “on average, cadmium accumulation is not likely to occur in EU 27 + Norway arable soils when using inorganic phosphate fertiliser containing less than 80 mg Cd/kg P2O5.”
How is the policy causing harm to farmers?
While the regulation may be based on largely unsupported health concerns, the effects of the change will be very real for EU farmers, EU fertiliser producers, and the wider European agri-food industry.
Limitations on the concentrations of cadmium permitted in phosphate fertilisers will ultimately reduce the number of viable suppliers of fertiliser products, and therefore, reduce market competition. Farmers and industry insiders believe that this will raise prices for fertiliser products, which are already an expensive overhead.
Fertilisers currently comprise a significant percentage of EU farmers input costs. Many feel that they will not be able to cope with increased prices, as they often already receive insufficient returns for their products. The European farmers’s interest group COPA and COGECA has argued that “the increase in input costs will be detrimental [to farmers’s]…economic viability and to the sustainability of farms.”
“It will have a negative impact on farmers profitability and the competitiveness of European agriculture which plays a key role in a global economy,” the group also said.
Isabel García Tejerina is a Spanish minister who opposed the proposals for cadmium limitations out of consideration to Spanish farmers and fertiliser producers. Tejerina argued that the regulation demonstrated disregard for farmers interests.
“Too strict cadmium limits would exclude us from the market of phosphate fertilizers”, she said, adding that France and the UK have similar concerns.
While there are limits on cadmium content in fertilisers in order to reduce its consumption, there are currently no limits on cadmium content in food products imported from outside of the EU. This is another source of anger as farmers fear that it could facilitate unfair competition.
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