Bananas: Brought to You by Dirty Oil?
Environmentalists are calling out two of the biggest US fruit companies for their role in what may be the most destructive industrial project on the planet: the tar sands oil extraction zone in Alberta, Canada. At the same time that thousands of people are descending on Washington, DC to urge President Obama to nix a new tar sands oil pipeline, groups like ForestEthics are asking Dole and Chiquita not to use tar sands oil in their trucks.
Tar sands oil is considered one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. Unlike conventional crude oil, it must be extracted from a rock-like substance called bitumen—a process that consumes large amounts of energy and gives tar sands oil an even bigger carbon footprint than regular oil. Mining for bitumen in Alberta is also transforming vast areas of boreal forest into industrial wasteland, and will destroy more forest if the project is allowed to continue.
“If tar sands development continues unchecked, we will lose an area of boreal forest the size of Maine, said ForestEthics volunteer Naomi Konopka on Friday, at a protest outside a Safeway that sells bananas from Dole and Chiquita. Volunteers handed out “tar covered” (actually chocolate-covered) bananas to curious passersby, and used an eight-foot banana costume to pique the interest of store customers.
The event was one of three protests that occurred last week and over the weekend, in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon. Each took places outside of a store that sells produce from Dole and Chiquita.
Oil probably isn’t the first thing you think about while shopping in the fruit aisle at the store. However it takes an incredible amount of fuel to transport bananas and other fruit by truck, from plantations in Central America to shelves in US supermarkets. This means fruit companies like Dole and Chiquita are major consumers of oil.
It also means these companies have enough purchasing clout to influence oil industry decisions. ForestEthics is calling on Dole and Chiquita to use this power for good, by pledging not to fuel their truck fleets with tar sands oil. This would send a message to oil companies and the Canadian government that the future lies in shifting to cleaner fuels, not mining for even dirtier forms of petroleum in the boreal forest.
“With fifty percent of the world’s banana production, Dole and Chiquita have a responsibility to avoid the worst fuels—like those from the tar sands,” said Adam Gaya, an organizer for ForestEthics.
ForestEthics launched its Dole and Chiquita campaign earlier this summer, as part of an international day of action to stop the tar sands. At events scattered across the US, Canada, and Europe, activists called on the fruit giants and other companies involved in the tar sands to embrace clean energy instead of dirty oil. The request isn’t unrealistic: twenty Fortune 1000 companies have already pledged to work toward reducing or eliminating their dependence on tar sands oil.
This month the pressure on Dole and Chiquita continues. Besides the three protests held last week, ForestEthics is collecting thousands of “customer complaints” from supermarket shoppers who want to see Dole and Chiquita abandon ties to the tar sands. ForestEthics is also running full-page ads in papers in Cincinnati and Los Angeles—the hometowns of Chiquita and Dole—accusing the companies of encouraging dirty oil development.
On Wednesday thousands of ForestEthics supporters logged onto Dole’s and Chiquita’s Facebook pages to post links to the ads and make their feelings about the tar sands known. The pages received so much traffic that comments on Chiquita’s page were temporarily shut down.
ForestEthics organizers are hopeful their efforts will begin to pay off, as they start to get Dole’s and Chiquita’s attention. “Americans want companies to use clean energy, not the dirtiest fuels on earth,” said Konopka at Friday’s protest in Portland. “This is a fun way to educate consumers about how their products get to them, and help them take action.”
Photo credit: ForestEthics