HOW TO SAVE THE RAIN FOREST
Rain forests are disappearing very quickly. The good news is there are a lot of people who want to save rain forests. The bad news is that saving rain forests is not going to be easy. It will take the efforts of many people working together in order to ensure that rain forests and their wildlife will survive for your children to appreciate, enjoy, and benefit from.
Some steps for saving rain forests and, on a broader scale, ecosystems around the world can be abbreviated as TREES:
- Teach others about the importance of the environment and how they can help save rain forests.
- 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 rain forests and wildlife
- Support companies that operate in ways that minimize damage to the environment
SAVING RAIN FORESTS THROUGH EDUCATION
Education is a critical part of saving the world’s rain forests. People must see the beauty and understand the importance of these forests so they will want to protect them. Environmental education should occur both in western countries like the United States and in countries like Bolivia and Madagascar that have rain forests.
In the United States, people need to understand their role in the loss of rain forests. For example, buying certain products like mahogany contributes to the cutting down of rain forests in other countries. If we make an effort to learn about the environment, we can understand what we’re losing as rain forest disappears. We can also make decisions to buy products and support companies and organizations that help the rain forest.
In rain forest countries, local people sometimes do not know why forests are important. Through educational programs these people can learn that forests provide key services (like clean water) and are home to plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Few children in Madagascar know that lemurs are not found in America. They are proud and happy when they learn that lemurs only live in Madagascar.
In other cases, however, people already know that forests are important. Where they need help is in fighting companies that are taking their land and destroying rain forests.
In some tropical countries, governments may not fully recognize the rights of forest people. Instead, governments may sell forest lands to companies that chop down trees for timber or industrial agriculture. Local people therefore need help learning about legal processes so they can defend forest lands against destructive companies.
The Internet, mobile phones, and satellite monitoring have created new opportunities for communities to mobilize against forest destruction. Tools like Facebook and Twitter can help people organize campaigns and protests when their rights are being ignored or violated. Google Earth is helping scientists, environmentalists, and even indigenous people see where forests are threatened by logging and mining.
Finally, education is important for improving people’s quality of life. One of the most effective ways to reduce population growth and alleviate poverty is through education, especially education of girls and young women.
REHABILITATE AND RESTORE RAIN FORESTS
In trying to protect rain forests, we also need to look at how damaged forests can be brought back to health. While it is impossible to replant a rain forest, some rain forests can recover after they have been cut down—especially if natural forests remain nearby or they have some help through the planting of trees. In some cases it is also possible to use deforested lands for improved forms of agriculture to provide food for people living nearby. When these people have enough food, they will not need to cut down more forest to plant crops.
One promising area of research looks at ancient societies that lived in the Amazon rain forest before the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. Apparently these populations were able to enrich the rain forest soil, which is usually quite poor, using charcoal and animal bones. By improving soil quality, large areas of the Amazon that have already been deforested could be used to support agriculture. This could reduce pressure on rain forest areas for agricultural land. Further, the “terra preta” soil as it’s called, could help fight climate change since it absorbs carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas.
ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO LIVE IN WAYS THAT DO NOT HURT THE ENVIRONMENT
A key part of saving rain forests and the environment is encouraging all people to live in ways that do less harm to the world around them. Driving less, using fuel efficient cars and public transport, conserving water, recycling, and turning off lights when you don’t need them are all ways that you and your family can reduce your impact on the environment.
In rain forest countries many scientists and organizations are working to help local people live in ways that cause less damage to the environment. Some people call this idea “sustainable development.” Sustainable development has a goal of improving the lives of people while at the same time protecting the environment. Without improving the livelihoods of people living in and around rain forests, it is very difficult to protect parks and wildlife. Conservation must be in the interest of local people to make parks work.
ESTABLISH PARKS THAT PROTECT RAIN FORESTS AND WILDLIFE
Creating protected areas like national parks is a great way to save rain forests and other ecosystems. Protected areas are locations preserved because of their environmental or cultural value. Generally, protected areas are managed by governments and use park rangers and guards to enforce the rules of the park and protect against illegal activities like hunting, mining, and the cutting down of trees.
Today, parks protect many of the world’s most endangered species. Animals like Pandas are found only in protected areas.
Parks are most successful when they have the support of local people living in and around the protected area. If local people have an interest in the park they may form a “community watch” to protect the park from illegal logging and wildlife poaching.
An effective way to protect rain forests is to involve indigenous people in park management. Indigenous people know more about the forest than anyone and have an interest in safeguarding it as a productive ecosystem that provides them food, shelter, and clean water. Research has found that in some cases, “indigenous reserves” may actually protect rain forest better than “national parks” in the Amazon.
Parks can also help the economy in rain forest countries by attracting foreign tourists who pay entrance fees, hire local wilderness guides, and buy local handicrafts like baskets, T-shirts, and beaded bracelets.
SUPPORT COMPANIES THAT DON’T HURT THE ENVIRONMENT
Today, some companies are concerned about the environment. These companies look for ways to reduce their impact on the world around them through recycling, using less energy, and supporting conservation efforts in other countries. If consumers like you and your parents support these companies by buying their products and services, the environment will be better off.
One way to learn what companies have responsible practices is to ask a local environmental group or do research online. Beware that some companies try to mislead people about their environmental record. It’s best to seek independent opinions on the environmental practices of a company rather than relying solely on what a company states on its own web site.
Another way to learn which companies are making efforts to reduce their environmental impact is to check whether their products have been eco-certified, which means that an independent group has evaluated the environmental impact of its products. Examples of eco-certification initiatives are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for wood products, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) for palm oil, and the Rain forest Alliance for other products. None of these systems are perfect, but they are often better than the alternative: non-certified products. Be sure to do a little research about eco-certification, because sometimes companies use fake certification systems.
Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel to enjoy and appreciate nature and cultural experiences. Ecotourism should have low impact on the environment and should contribute to the well-being of local people.
WHAT YOU DO CAN AT HOME TO HELP THE ENVIRONMENT
There are several things you can do at home to help reduce your impact on the environment.
- Eat less beef and pork. Fish (check Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to see what types are ok) and poultry have a much lower impact on the environment, while other protein sources such as nuts and organic soy are even less damaging to the planet.
- Think about packaging before you buy products. Individually-wrapped candy uses resources and generates a lot of trash, while fruits and vegetables are healthier and mean less waste.
- Turn off lights and other electrical devices when you don’t need them. When light bulbs burn out, replace them with energy-efficient bulbs.
- Do not waste water.
- Encourage your parents to drive fuel-efficient cars and not to overheat their house.
- Don’t let your pets go when you don’t want them any more. Feral pets can have a destructive impact on the local environment. Before buying a pet be sure that you are ready to take care of it. Having a pet is a responsibility.
- Think about where the things you buy come from and how they are made. Sometimes it’s better not to buy something new, and buy it used instead. Or skip buying it altogether if it’s not necessary.
- Get involved! Join a local environmental group that is working to make a difference. For example, Mongabay has selected the following organizations as recipients of its annual conservation award, which recognizes groups that are using innovative methods for protecting forests, oceans, and other ecosystems: the Amazon Conservation Team, for its work with indigenous tribes in trying to protect the Amazon; Health in Harmony, which is helping protect rain forests in Borneo by providing health care to local communities; and WildlifeDirect, which has created a system for funding park rangers and other conservation workers at dozens of sites around the world.
- Tell your family, friends, and relatives that you want to do more to protect the environment and why it’s important to do so. Spreading the word is very important.
THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP SAVE RAIN FORESTS
- Don’t buy products made from wildlife skins.
- Don’t buy exotic pets that have been collected from the wild. You can ask pet stores whether animals are “wild-caught” or “captive bred.” “Captive bred” animals are more friendly for the environment.
- Buy recycled paper.
- Don’t buy wood products from Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, or Africa unless you know they come from eco-friendly suppliers. A good way to know if wood is rain forest-safe is if it has a “certification label.” An example of a certification label is “FSC-certified” which means the wood comes from sustainably managed forests.
- Learn more about rain forests and the plants and animals that live in them. Tell your friends and parents why rain forests are important.
- Join an organization or an Internet group (Facebook has many communities) that is working to protect rain forests or wildlife.