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Your cocaine habit is fuelling climate change

Drug-related deforestation in Central America is contributing to forced migration and the environmental crisis

First the eels, now the climate: your weekend cocaine binge (@ the Tory government) isn’t just fucking you up, it’s also destroying the planet. In order to get drugs to North America, traffickers are cutting down trees in protected Central American forests, exasperating the climate crisis and forcing people out of their homes.

According to new research, traffickers are using increasingly remote routes to avoid law enforcement, resulting in devastating deforestation and causing $214.6 million (£175.4 million) worth of damage every year – more than double the forests’ allocated conservation budget. Traffickers are also laundering their money by investing in ranching and agriculture, two businesses renowned for the deliberate destruction of land.

With eight per cent of global carbon emissions stemming from deforestation alone – and at a time when the world needs more trees to absorb carbon and stablise the climate – the impact of the cocaine trade is substantial. 

“You cannot do drug control policy and conservation policy separately,” said Bernardo Aguilar-González, one of the researchers. “You have to do them in harmony.” He also cites American money a significant cause of the problem, hoping the new reports will change the way the world approaches drug policy.

“You cannot do drug control policy and conservation policy separately. You have to do them in harmony” – Bernardo Aguilar-González

Aguilar-González continued: “Investing in community land rights and participatory governance in protected areas is a key strategy to combat drug trafficking and climate change simultaneously.”

Researchers have touched on cocaine’s role in climate change before, citing the early 2000s US crackdown on drug cartels in Mexico and the Caribbean as fuelling drug trafficking, and its resulting deforestation, in Central America.

As well as contributing to the environmental crisis, traffickers are uprooting communities when they destroy forests, using intimidation and violence to take control of an area. “When I’ve asked community leaders and protected area managers in Central America how drug trafficking impacts their work,” another researcher Jennifer Devine said, “they say, ‘Simple, it costs lives’.”

Just this summer, blazes in the South American Amazon rainforest caught mass media attention, with Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro being widely criticised for his role in encouraging illegal deforestation. Although the fires are increasingly under control, seeing a 35 per cent decline from August to September, flames still engulf the forest.

While there may be no point expecting change from Bolsonaro’s far-right government, researchers are urging politicians to protect Central American forests. They say that allowing indigenous tribes and local communities to manage their own spaces, it will make them less susceptible to land destruction by drug traffickers, and hopefully reduce the illegal trade’s impact on climate change.