The Earth’s rainforests continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Each day, an astounding 80,000 acres of rainforest are lost forever, despite international disapproval and concern. Groups like the Rainforest Action Network, the Rainforest Alliance, the Borneo Project and international programs like UN-REDD work to save global rainforests through incentive-based initiatives, education and conservation programs. Still, it’s an uphill battle that requires a long-term complex social, environmental and economic approach to win.
One of the main reasons rainforests continue to be destroyed comes down to basic economics: they’re worth more (monetarily) cut down than standing, at least by today’s standards. Rainforests are also predominantly located in some of the poorest regions on Earth, leaving local populations vulnerable to corruption and foreign business advancement. Palm oil production, for example, which consists of cutting down virgin rainforest in order to plant a mono-crop of oil palm trees, trees that can only grow in tropical climates, is just one example of rainforest development. Use lipstick or eat ice cream? Chances are palm oil is listed as one of the ingredients.
Rainforests are also home to 50% of the world’s species, which are directly impacted by deforestation. In addition, the forests act as a major carbon sink and hold countless natural, historical and medicinal wonders. They’re also home to some of the world’s last remaining indigenous peoples who are linked to past civilizations including the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs. These cultures have learned to live with the land and therefore uniquely understand the intricacies of the rainforest and its animal and plant inhabitants.
Scientists and activists remain concerned about the best approach to save the rapidly disappearing rainforests of the world, yet there appears to be agreement of what has and has not worked in the past and it’s clear that rainforests will survive only if local people and governments can be shown a tangible economic benefit to their intact existence. While many living abroad can see the environmental and emotional benefit of a rainforest, those living locally and deep in poverty with an immediate need for money are more likely to sell out.
So what do you do? Ecotourism is one possibility as are bio-prospecting fees and carbon credits. Nevertheless, economic demand for palm oil is strong and financial incentives simply aren’t enough given rampant corruption. Cultural barriers also play a significant role, creating rifts between developed nation priorities and developing nation priorities. In light of all the challenges, however, five basic steps we can each take every day to save rainforests have been broken down into the acronym TREES, which stands for:
- Teach others about the importance of the environment and how they can help save rainforests.
- Restore damaged ecosystems by planting trees on land where forests have been cut down.
- Encourage people to live in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment.
- Establish parks to protect rainforests and wildlife.
- Support companies that operate in ways that minimize damage to the environment.
For many, Teach, Encourage and Support will likely make the most practical sense, although if you’re able to donate to a worthy and credible conservation organization, plant a tree, or do even more, then great! Saving the rainforests of the world has never been more important, particularly as climate change increases in severity, making global carbon sinks of critical value. Ironic, eh?
Photo Credit: NASA