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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Beyond the Headlines

Air Date: Week of

Organized crime is fueling deforestation in tropical areas including in South America (Photo: A.Davey, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

This week on Beyond the Headlines, Environmental Health News Editor Peter Dykstra joins Host Steve Curwood to talk about how organized crime is fueling deforestation, a study that suggests potty-training cows could help curb their emissions, and a message to Congress by President “Teddy” Roosevelt back in 1907 warning about the limits of resource extraction.


BASCOMB: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb

CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood.

And joining me now on the line is Peter Dykstra. Peter's an editor with Environmental Health News that's ehn.org and dailyclimate.org. And he's down there in Atlanta, Georgia, looking over what's beyond the headlines for us. Hey, Peter, how you doing? And what do you see today?

DYKSTRA: Doing all right, Steve, and we're looking at a study by a Texas State University professor, named Jennifer Devine, on what she's found is that organized crime is a driver in a lot of global deforestation. We often think of the products that the rainforest is sacrificed to be turned into beef cattle ranching, soybean production, palm oil plantations, and of course, timber products. But organized crime has its hand in a lot of the activity that is turning our tropical rain forests into open land or farming land.

CURWOOD: So, what's the inducement for crooks to get involved in this?

DYKSTRA: Well, a couple of things, in some areas they're directly involved in what replaces tropical rainforests when those replacements are coca farms to make cocaine. In other areas, it's a simple link between the illegal logging that goes on, and the illegal money laundering that enables much of organized crime and enables some of what's going on in the rainforest.

CURWOOD: So, I suppose it is easier for crooks to smuggle illegal timber than it is to smuggle cocaine, huh?

DYKSTRA: It is, it's easier to hide your cocaine in illegal timber shipments. But that money laundering is a big part of it again, not just in South and Central America, but throughout the tropical world, places like Malaysia and Indonesia, where much of the world's palm oil production is based.

CURWOOD: So, this is another way that cooks can well have a beef, huh?

DYKSTRA: They can have a beef. And speaking of beef, we've got another item to discuss there. You want to hear about it?

CURWOOD: Yeah. Okay.

DYKSTRA: It's called the MooLoo, based on a small study published in the journal, Current Biology, and the MooLoo, is a way, to get this, potty train dairy cattle in order to capture some of the polluting elements of their waste products.

Potty-training cows could offer a way to curb some of their harmful greenhouse gas emissions (Photo: Kabsik Park, Flickr CC BY 2.0)

CURWOOD: Okay, Peter. So, you're going to potty train a cow?

DYKSTRA: Well, it's easier if you potty train a calf. And those young cows are fed sweet treats, incentives, if they go into the right stall to pee. That pee is then captured so it doesn't become ammonia and nitrous oxide in the air, helping create air pollution, helping create more global warming. And instead, in the small study, 11 out of 16 calves were taught how to use the stall that helps stall their pollution. See what I did there.

CURWOOD: And actually, the urine is a big deal because there's a lot more nutrient dense stuff in urine then in the solid matter, what we generically call cow poop.

DYKSTRA: It does. And we're waiting for a PooLoo to come along to take care of the rest. But it's a potential step forward. Kind of a weird one. And it's a small study, but we'll see if this is a technique to reduce the amount of pollution that dairy cattle costs.

CURWOOD: Hey, Peter, it's that time in our chats where you usually look back in history. Give us an interesting nugget. What do you have for us today?

President Theodore Roosevelt is credited with many conservation efforts in the US (Photo: Political Graveyard, Flickr CC BY 2.0)

DYKSTRA: An item from December 3, 1907. In the annual message to Congress, that's the predecessor to what the President now does in the State of the Union address and that message to Congress in 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt considered to be one of the greatest conservationist presidents we've ever had, told this to Congress, and I quote, "We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible. This is not so."

CURWOOD: TR, Teddy Roosevelt, certainly had that one right, huh? I mean, even though he's said some fairly racist things he had quite a career otherwise, I mean, what he created the Forest Service and all those national parks that he stood behind.

DYKSTRA: He did and also the Fish and Wildlife Service. A lot of its impetus came from things like bird plumage. Back around the turn of the 20th century, bird plumage was sought after for women's hats. They were the fashion of the day, TR came around and helped create much of the foundation, the basis of the conservation ethic that many Americans live by today.

CURWOOD: So, thank you, TR. And thank you, Peter Dykstra for telling us these stories today. Peter is an editor with Environmental Health News. That's ehn.org and dailyclimate.org. We'll talk to you again real soon.

DYKSTRA: You're welcome, Steve, and will talk to you soon.

CURWOOD: And there's more on the stories on the Living on Earth webpage that's loe.org.



The Conversation | “Organized crime is a top driver of global deforestation – along with beef, soy, palm oil and wood products”

Discover | “Toilet-Trained Cows Could Be a New Pollution Solution”

Teddy Roosevelt’s 1907 message to Congress about the limits of resource extraction


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