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Snort coke, shaft the environment, say boffins

Cocaine: Now with even more added guilt

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Snorting cocaine is an environmental crime whatever your views on drug use, scientists declared last week.

A panel of scientists meeting at the Natural History Museum in London last week detailed how the production of the drug and its trafficking affect biodiversity and contribute to climate change.

The production of a gram of cocaine means the destruction of four square metres of Colombian forest, they said, raising the question of which supermodels, popstars and city types should be lined up with hummer drivers and big game hunters in the environmental most-wanted stakes.

Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the planet, and also the biggest cocaine producer. Bad combination.

Cocaine production is a threat to environment is all its stages, said Liliana Davalos, lecturer in Molecular Ecology at the Open University, UK. The first step of the cycle is the destruction of forest to plant coca. Every year, 100 thousand hectares of Colombian forest is destroyed for this end. The plantations also use tons of herbicides that are forbidden in many other countries. Since the UK is one of the world’s largest consumption markets for cocaine, it makes concerns about organic tomatoes and pesticides seem futile.

Then, the coca leaves must be soaked in solvents to release their psychotropic substances. Every year, 20 million litres of acetone, 13 million litres of gasoline and 81 thousand litres of sulphuric acid are used in this process and then thrown away, untreated, in rivers and water streams.

Transporting the product demands the clearing of more forests for landing strips, preferably in national parks and conservation areas. "These areas belong to the Government, so no owner can be held liable for the illegal activities," Davalos points out.

Finally, the Colombian government's efforts to eradicate the plantations only serve to exacerbate the situation. They use planes to spray herbicides over coca plantations, with predictably gruesome consequences for insects, amphibians and other plants in the area. Growers then move to other areas, clear the native vegetation and start all over again.

For those who are convinced of the huge impact of their stimulant consumption and want to change for a milder and more ethical one, massive doses of caffeine are the way to go.

Coffee from shade trees cultivation farms, where the bushes are grown in the shadow of native taller trees, is a much more eco-friendly option. "Biodiversity in these plantations is almost as high as in primary forests," said botanist Sandy Knapp from the Natural History Museum.

So, the geek classic stimulant is eco-friendly, while the yuppie classic is a no no.®

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