Many of us live thousands of miles away from Brazil, Indonesia and the Congo Basin, where the last stands of tropical rainforests still exist. It's easy to forget that each breath we take is connecting us to those remote ecosystems, and that we should care as much about their survival as our own.
Some of this you probably already know: Rainforests provide homes and habitats for more than 50 percent of the species on Earth as well as for millions of Indigenous communities. What's more, rainforests also serve as one of our key defenses against global warming by storing massive amounts of carbon. Over 40 percent of the world's oxygen is produced from the rainforests. It may sound clichéd, but the adage is true: Rainforests are the lungs of the planet. The root meaning of the word conspire is "to breathe together," so it's no exaggeration to say that we're all in a vast conspiracy with the world's rainforests.
Or, we should be.
Today, more than two-thirds of the world's tropical rainforests exist only as fragmented remnants. Industrial agribusiness, resource extraction, poor governance, illegal logging and the failure to recognize and respect the rights of forest peoples as well as global warming all threaten the continued existence of our planet's lungs (here's a great resource on threats facing the world's rainforests). It's as if humans have been on a smoking bender for a few hundred years, and, in spite of advanced lung cancer, we just can't stop ourselves from smoking that next pack.
North America and Europe are responsible for a large part of the consumer demand that drives rainforest destruction — which also means we can do something about it. Here's my effort to offer the most important steps you can take to stand with RAN in protecting the world's rainforests. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are my favorites. Please share your solutions as well!
- Become a Rainforest Lover
Perhaps the most important step to protecting our rainforests is falling in love with them. Educate yourself, your family and your friends about the beauty and remarkable importance of these ecosystems. Right now forest destruction is more profitable than forest protection. You can change that, and a great place to start is arming yourself with the facts. One of the best repositories of rainforest stories and facts is Mongabay.com. I would recommend starting your love affair with rainforests there.
Pulp from cleared rainforests is made into cheap copy paper, books, tissue and toilet paper and luxury shopping bags that are then sold to consumers in the United States, Europe and Asia. But it doesn't need to be this way. Top U.S. publishers are taking a stand and demanding rainforest safe paper, but they need your help. Here is a guide to rainforest-safe publishers and books so that you can support those companies that are doing their part and pressure the rest to shape up.
Believe it or not, palm oil is found in half of all packaged goods in the US — everything from cereal, cooking oil and candy bars to lipstick and soap — and its cultivation is one of the key causes of deforestation. Concerned customers have pushed companies like General Mills, Unilever and Nestle (to name just a few) to commit to source only responsible palm oil. Now it's Cargill's turn! As the company that buys more palm oil than any other company in the U.S., Cargill can make a big difference if they choose not to buy palm oil that hurts rainforests. Let Cargill know you care.
Raising money to help protect rainforests and forest peoples is easy and important. The Rainforest Foundation and Rainforest Action Network both have easy ways for you, your friends, and/or your classroom to raise critical funds that help forest peoples defend their rights to their traditional lands and to protect and preserve their natural resources.
It may not be readily obvious, but fossil fuels like coal and oil are a major threat to rainforests and rainforest communities alike. Oil extraction has increased dramatically in the Amazon, for instance, often with devastating social and environmental effects. The problem is not confined to the Amazon, however: A proposed pipeline for transporting oil from Canada's tar sands to refiners in the US would go right through the Great Bear Rainforest. Of course, once all that oil is burned it contributes to climate change. Coal is also a major part of the climate problem, contributing some 20% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. The US currently gets about half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants, earning it the title of "Climate Enemy #1." Our Global Finance Campaign is working to stop big banks from funding coal projects and thereby keeping us hooked on the dirty stuff. Sign up now and help us work to get America off of coal.
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