Environmental Surf Film Journeys into the Great Bear Rainforest

Part enviro documentary, part surf film, Tipping Barrels was created by Canadian surf brand Sitka, in collaboration with Pacific Wild. Although the film has a clear message, it doesn’t feel too “activist.” My impression is that the team set out to produce a work of art first and an advocacy piece second. As a result, you can appreciate the beautiful shots of rainforest and wildlife without delving into politics–at the same time, you can’t help but realize how much beauty and life is at stake.

I think this is a smart way to produce a documentary, even from an activist perspective. Tipping Barrels doesn’t preach. It’s basically a story of two guys looking to catch some waves off the coast of British Columbia. The stunning landcape visuals draw you in, and the poignant interviews make an understated but undeniable point.

Background: Oil and Rainforests Don’t Mix

The Enbridge Northern Gateway, the pipeline mentioned in the film, would pump tar sands  over 2,000 miles from Alberta to British Columbia (map here)–think of it as Keystone XL’s northern cousin. Like TransCanada’s project, the Northern Gateway is intended to help Canadian tar sands companies reach growing markets in Asia. In doing so, it will cross hundreds of streams and rivers, ending at the port of Kitimat in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway has the distinction of threatening one of the most pristine temperate ecosystems in the world. From Kitimat, tankers would carry the oil along British Columbia’s rugged coastline, home to a huge range of wildlife, from the economically essential salmon to the enigmatic spirit bear.

The industrial infrastructure needed to ship oil would be destructive enough by itself. And I don’t even need to describe what an oil spill on the B.C. coast would entail–just picture BP’s mess in a rainforest. Even something on the scale of the recent Montana oil spill would be disastrous.

The Northern Gateway faces stiff opposition, especially from First Nations communities, who have united against the pipeline. Largely due to the controversy, the final decision on Enbridge’s proposal has been delayed until 2013. But, like Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway has a lot of money and political power behind it, so it’s definitely not dead yet.

The power of palm oil: Is your breakfast fueling rainforest destruction?

Food products we consume every day are driving deforestation on the other side of the world.

Indonesian rainforests are among the most biodiverse, providing critical habitat for endangered species like the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran elephant, and orangutan.  Many humans also rely on the rainforest for their livelihoods.

Yet millions of acres of Indonesian rainforest are being razed.  Besides destroying habitat, deforestation produces the majority of Indonesia’s CO2 emissions and makes the country the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The culprit is palm oil.  Long found in cosmetics, palm oil is now used in a variety of consumer products.  It’s popular with snack food companies since its lack of transfats makes it healthier than the ingredients it replaces.  In fact, General Mills is a major buyer of palm oil, using it in over 100 of their products.  Trusted brands like Betty Crocker, Chex, Green Giant, Pillsbury, and, yes, Cheerios (full list here) are contributing to rainforest destruction.

General Mills does not produce the palm oil; they rely on Cargill, a U.S. agribusiness giant that owns five palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and buys about 11 percent of Indonesia’s palm oil output.

To supply the surging market for palm oil (U.S. demand has tripled over five years), Indonesia has plans to double production.  This is bad news, since the Indonesian government may be the only entity that can control deforestation in Indonesia.  But palm oil, like many destructive industries, is big money.  More palm plantations produce more jobs and higher tax revenue — hard benefits for any government to walk away from.

What can we do, way over here in the States?  We can build a movement putting pressure on General Mills to switch to sustainable palm oil sources.  Companies like Unilever and Seventh Generation have taken the initiative, and I don’t see any reason General Mills shouldn’t follow their lead.  In a time when corporations like Wal-Mart are trying to put on a progressive  image, a food company shouldn’t miss the chance for some positive PR.

But consumers must let General Mills know that we care about sustainability and that we know Cargill palm oil isn’t sustainable.  Publishing a yearly report doesn’t make a corporation responsible; they have to back up their claims with action.  For a company that “strives to stand among the most socially responsible consumer food companies in the world” that shouldn’t be a problem.

Read/learn/act:  Rainforest Action Network, Mongabay, Scientific American.