The Great Nutrient Collapse, Rainforest Disaster and Houston’s Tainted Floodwaters

Featuring this week’s news roundup is the perplexing link between rising levels of carbon dioxide and the deterioration of nutrients within plants and crops; the overwhelming impacts of the chocolate industry in West Africa and the contamination of Houston’s floodwaters.

The Great Nutrient Collapse

Texas Republican, Lamar Smith, once stated that “a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would aid photosynthesis, which in turn contributes to increased plant growth” and that “this correlates to a greater volume of food production and better quality food” (Evich, B.H., 2017). What he was not aware of, however, was that mathematician Irakli Lolazde next to other scientists had long been studying the link between increasing amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the nutritious quality of the plants; proving that, although a rise in CO2 does accelerate photosynthesis, it also leads to plants storing more carbohydrates at the cost of essential nutrients such as protein, iron and zinc (Evich, B.H., 2017).

In 2002 Lolazde published a paper in the journal of Trends in Ecology and Evolution, affirming the connection between increasing CO2 and human nutrition, plus pointing out the scarcity of research surrounding the subject. Out of the thousands of publications Lolazde examined, for example, only one analyzed the changes in the nutritional composition of rice. This paper, which was issued in 1997, reported a decline in zinc and iron in samples of this widely consumed crop (Evich, B.H., 2017).

Now a days, the link between CO2 and human nutrition has made its way into more and more scientists’ agendas. Their research efforts have shown how vital minerals like calcium, potassium, zinc and iron have dropped for approximately 95% of the earth’s plant species as CO2 levels increase (Evich, B.H., 2017). The protein volume of these plants has also declined. According to a recent study, by 2050 this significant shift in the plant’s nutritional composition could put around 150 million people at risk of protein deficiency, 138 million people at risk of zinc deficiency and 1 billion mothers plus 354 million children vulnerable to anemia due to iron insufficiency (Evich, B.H., 2017).

Chocolate Industry Drives Rainforest Disaster in Ivory Coast

West African cocoa suppliers for big player chocolate brands including Mars, Nestlé, Hershey, Mondelez and Godiva have been caught illegally growing beans within protected areas in the Ivory Coast (Mighty Earth, 2017). Since the 1960s rainforest cover in this area has been downsized by more than 80%; a zone that provides approximately 40% of the global cocoa demand. The stretch from Sierra Leone to Cameroon, on the other hand, supplies 70% of the world’s cocoa, with the Ivory Coast and Ghana being the first and second largest producers. Ferrero Rocher and Milka could also be involved in the use of these tainted beans, given that they generally end up mixed with other legal beans in the supply chain (Maclean, R., 2017).

An investigation published by Mighty Earth stated in a report that if we continue with this rate of global chocolate demand there will be no forests left in the region by 2030. Despite some of the cacao industry players have already promised to put a halt on deforestation and forest degradation, none of them supported high impact actions such as passing a moratorium on deforestation cocoa or backing a commitment to 100% shade-grown cocoa (Maclean, R., 2017). On the meantime, local government institutions like OIPR (Office Ivorien des Parcs et Réserves) and Conseil Café Cacao in charge of protecting the forests and overseeing the cacao production are not really doing their job.

As stated by The Guardian, one of the most offensive paradoxes of all in this situation is the fact that farmers are so poor that they cannot even afford to buy a bar of chocolate (Maclean, R., 2017).

Houston’s Floodwaters are Tainted, Testing Shows

Unsafe levels of Escherichia coli and E coli have already been identified in two of Houston’s neighborhoods, along with elevated levels of lead, arsenic and other heavy metals inside many of the homes (Healy, J. & Kaplan, S, 2017). Although the Times researchers who carried out the study basically blame this widespread contamination on the sewage system, it wouldn’t be surprising if many of the heavy metals and chemicals actually come from the toxic waste sites that were flooded during the hurricane or the leaking petrochemical plants (Milman, O., 2017); both of which are not mentioned in The New York Times’ article.

In the meantime, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have not publicly shared the results of their samples, regardless of having expressed concern about toxic floodwaters.

Director of the Environmental Health Service at Baylor College of Medicine, Winifred Hamilton, recommends wearing a mask with a filter, goggles, gloves and rubber boots to avoid any direct contact with the water. Bruises and cuts should also be carefully covered and kids should be abstained from playing with the floodwater. Lastly, people with asthma, immune disorders or the elderly should be taken back to their homes until it has already been properly cleaned up (Healy, J. & Kaplan, S, 2017).

If experiencing heavy headaches, respiratory problems, swelling of the limbs or rashes, Ms. Hamilton urges visiting the doctor immediately (Healy, J. & Kaplan, S, 2017).

Call to action

Let’s continue striving for a flourishing planet that remains full of diversity and life, by doing the best we can as individuals as well as backing people, initiatives, projects, organizations and businesses that care about our wellbeing and that areg enuinely looking to solve this most pressing issues of our time. Only then will we move towards a healthier and happier future, one step at a time.

Other important stories

Sources

Buzzsumo.com “Environment” (2017) Most shared. Buzzsumo, 3 August 2017. Web. 18 September 2017. https://app.buzzsumo.com/research/most-shared?type=articles&result_type=total&num_days=7&general_article&infographic&video&guest_post&giveaway&interview&q=environment&page=1

Evich, B.H. “The Great Nutrient Collapse: The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat, for the worse. And almost nobody is paying attention.” (2017) The Agenda. Politico, 13 September 2017. Web. 18 September 2017. http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/09/13/food-nutrients-carbon-dioxide-000511

Mighty Earth “Investigation Links Chocolate to Destruction of National Parks” (2017) Posts. Mighty Earth, 2017. Web. 18 September 2017. http://www.mightyearth.org/chocolatesdarksecret

Maclean, R. “Chocolate Industry Drives Rainforest Disaster in Ivory Coast” (2017) The Guardian, 13 September 2017. Web. 18 September 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/13/chocolate-industry-drives-rainforest-disaster-in-ivory-coast

Healy, J. & Kaplan, S. “Houston’s Floodwaters Are Tainted, Testing Shows” (2017) The New York Times, 11 September 2017. Web. 18 September 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/11/health/houston-flood-contamination.html

Milman, O. “Your Eyes Start Itching: Pollution Soars in Houston After Chemical Industry Leaks” (2017) The Guardian, 2 September 2017. Web. 18 September 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/02/houston-hurricane-harvey-pollution-petrochemical-plants