September 22, 2007

The Tobacco Toll

The tobacco industry turns out to be… not so environmentally friendly. An In These Times piece by Bryan Farrell assembles some statistics you can use to harangue your smoking friends. After you've browbeaten them into going vegetarian, that is:
Without even factoring in the paper wrapping, packaging, and print advertisements—which require as much paper by weight as the tobacco being grown—nearly 600 million trees are felled each year to provide the fuel necessary for drying out the tobacco. That means one in eight trees cut down each year worldwide is being destroyed for tobacco production. [I]n Malawi, in a region where only three percent of the farmers grow tobacco, nearly 80 percent of the trees cut down each year are used for the curing process. …

Moreover, were farmers to stop growing tobacco and only grow food crops—as the Yale University School of Medicine proposed more than a decade ago—10 to 20 million of the world's current 28 million undernourished people could be fed.

Aside from land erosion, deforestation also affects the atmosphere, by raising the level of carbon dioxide emissions responsible for global warming. Scientists affiliated with the climate research group Global Canopy Programme in England have reported that the 51 million acres cut down every year account for nearly 25 percent of heat-trapping gases. By that standard, the 9 million acres being deforested annually for tobacco production account for nearly 5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
What's also striking is just how massive the tobacco industry is. There are about 1.2 billion smokers worldwide—a fifth of the world's population—which in turn creates a business that employs some 33 million workers around the world cultivating tobacco. And the UN estimates that cigarette consumption in developing countries will continue to increase at a rate of 1.7 percent a year, so RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris have nothing to fear.
-- Brad Plumer 2:34 PM || ||