Dear EarthTalk: What can I do to help prevent deforestation in the Amazon even if I don’t live in the region? — J.G.
The fact that our climate, our air and our water know no national borders means that the forests are our mutual responsibility. We all depend on their services and we all play a part in causing deforestation even if we live far away geographically. Also, deforestation is occurring everywhere on the planet, not just the in the Amazon rainforest, so doing your part locally could help retain tree cover and improve air quality in your region.
Most if not all deforestation is ultimately driven by our consumption, so avoiding products and companies responsible for deforestation is the logical first step. While it may seem obvious, asking about the source of the wood you are using on your next home repair project—and rejecting it if it comes from the tropical rainforest—will help efforts to prevent deforestation. Mahogany, ipê and other tropical hardwoods should be avoided unless they are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a non-profit which vets sustainably harvested timber operations around the world.
Another way to do your part to fight deforestation is to cut back on or eliminate meat from your diet. Cattle from the Amazon basin are most likely raised on ranches that used to be part of the rainforest. Likewise, expanding soybean farms in Brazil to feed cattle is a huge reason for Amazon deforestation. If you can’t give up meat entirely, at least eat less and get it from local producers practicing organic techniques. Meatless Monday, a project of the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, provides many resources and ideas to try to get Americans to cut their meat consumption by at least 15 percent.
The expansion of palm oil plantations in tropical regions is the latest insult to tropical rainforests. Making your own homemade food and health/beauty products is one way to be sure you are avoiding palm oil, but you could also start by researching what you want online to find the best ready-made choices free of palm oil. Ethical Consumer’s Palm Oil Free Product List, which includes dozens of rainforest-friendly baby foods, cereal bars, chocolate bars, pet foods, shampoos and soaps, is a good place to start.
And who knew that resisting the urge to upgrade your perfectly good cell phone or computer could help prevent deforestation? Mining throughout tropical regions in Central Africa and beyond for metals and minerals that go into our electronics leads to wide swaths of rainforest destruction as well. Buying electronics made from recycled materials when possible and avoiding products with built-in “planned obsolescence”—your old phone will probably work well for a few more years—are more ways to be part of the solution.
And of course, there’s no better way to fight deforestation than by planting trees. The Arbor Day Foundation provides lots of tips for starting or joining a tree planting campaign in your neck of the woods.
CONTACTS: Forest Stewardship Council, us.fsc.org; Meatless Monday, www.meatlessmonday.com; Ethical Consumer’s Palm Oil Free List, www.ethicalconsumer.org/shoppingethically/palmoilfreelist.aspx; Arbor Day Foundation, www.arborday.org.
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