My growing fascination with climate change
The first time I understood that the world did not have infinite resources was in the year 2000 when someone told me it would take seven planets to sustain the current level of world consumption into the future. I absorbed the comment but didn’t process it until much later. In 2006, Al Gore released the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, a call to action to the world that global warming was a man-made disaster in the making that, if left unchecked, could melt ice caps, create floods, force millions of people to flee coastal communities, and increase temperatures to the point where biodiversity on our planet would change forever. I remember seeing the movie and being intrigued. It was the second time I recall thinking about the sustainability of our world. I started a new job and the words “climate change” and “global warming” fell off my radar.
Climate change gets real
From 2010 to 2016, I served with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). On a daily basis, we were coordinating assets and expertise from Red Cross societies around the world to support disasters on all continents. I witnessed the real-life implications of our changing climate every time we issued an emergency appeal, for example, in response to a drought, food insecurity, unprecedented flooding, or increased dengue epidemics because longer periods of rain and still water serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Within a six-year window, from 2010 to 2016, the IFRC doubled its international emergency appeals for natural mega-disasters because local communities could not cope with the shocks of climate change. I found myself being more aware of the issues that caused many of these crises. I found myself increasingly concerned with the concepts of inequity, scarcity, and climate change. When I moved to North Carolina to attend Duke University as a Rotary Peace Fellow, a key question that weighed on my mind was: how can I contribute to making our world more sustainable, and how can I learn more about climate change?
Tackling climate change, one soybean at a time
This summer, with support from Rotary International, I am interning at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a leading NGO that marries science with market incentives, policy levers and practical partnerships, to make our world more sustainable. I am part of the EDF + Biz team which works with corporations to drive responsible sourcing through local and global supply chains: from how raw materials are derived in fields and forests and processed in factories, to how they are manufactured, packaged and placed on store shelves, and everything in between.
My specific task this summer is to research the supply chain impact of soy farming on deforestation in Brazil – where some forests are being cleared to make way for more soy farms, to accommodate the world’s growing demand for soy. I am talking to experts, reviewing reports, and researching the economics of the soy industry, the stakeholders, and agricultural and environmental policies. At the close of my internship I will make recommendations for my team to consider, ideally, potential levers of positive change – be it at the community, policy or business level; only time – and research – will tell.
How does this connect to climate change? Forests play a key role in cleaning the air we breathe by capturing the global emissions of carbon dioxide from things like cars, planes and power stations. According to EDF, deforestation causes climate change on a global scale, and is responsible for about 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The US Department of Agriculture projects that global soybean production will surpass 345 million tonnes this year, and that Brazil will be the largest exporter of soy; research agency BMI predicts that 100 million tonnes will be produced in Brazil alone. So what does the world do with all this soy?
Surprisingly, soy is in many things that we consume, not just soy sauce. For example: beverages, oil, flour, bran, desserts, and protein supplements. Soy also goes into pet food! Derivatives of soy are even used in pharmaceuticals, paint and plastics. But the majority of soy that gets produced globally goes into animal feed for beef and poultry which we eventually consume. Clearing more forests for soy is a bad option for our climate, but intensifying soy production on existing farm lands could be a good one.
Speaking of the climate, in the wake of the US Administration’s recent decision to leave the Paris Agreement, I have seen concerned citizens, communities and corporations double-down on their commitment to addressing climate change. Over the weekend, some business leaders matched public donations to EDF to demonstrate their continued dedication to the cause. It makes me proud to be part of an organization that is recognized for their hard and good work. It makes me proud to be part of EDF.
By mapping the supply chain of soy in Brazil in my internship, I hope we can get a sense of the soy footprint in the country and perhaps try to collaborate with stakeholders in the supply chain to drive more sustainable sourcing practices to reduce deforestation. Perhaps it’s possible to tackle climate change one soybean at a time.
Linda Low, Canadian, is a Rotary Peace Fellow pursuing her Masters of International Development Policy at Duke University. She is based in EDF’s office in Raleigh, North Carolina, for her summer internship.