Intuitively, we all understand that trees are vital to the continued existence of our planet as we know it. We’ve all read countless statistics reminding us that, despite rampant deforestation over the past few decades, forests today still cover some 30% of global land area, and provide a home to some 70% of all terrestrial animals and plants. We’re all very aware that, without trees, the Earth simply wouldn’t function as the lush oasis of astonishing biodiversity we’re lucky enough to call home.
And yet, insanely, we’re still dragging our feet as a species when it comes to finding effective ways to protect our woodland resources against the destructive power of global consumer industries.
What does it take to spur us into action?
PERHAPS WE NEED MORE FRIGHTENING STATISTICS?
For instance, we could talk about how the world’s forests currently store an estimated 283 billion tons of carbon in their biomass. We could point out that aggressive deforestation is by far the quickest way of releasing that staggering tonnage directly into our atmosphere, and that the environmental impact of doing so would be pretty catastrophic for all of us.
Perhaps we need alarming visual representations of (almost) real-time deforestation taking place in specific locations around the world. NASA has been doing this for years, and newer online tools like Global Forest Watch now enable anyone to create custom maps, analyse forest trends, subscribe to alerts, or download data for their local area or the entire world.
HOW YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Perhaps we just need to know how better to help, in small and very manageable ways, in our daily lives at home…
REDUCE/ REUSE/ RECYCLE
The ‘three Rs’ of responsible consumption are something we can all pay close attention to in our daily habits – particularly as almost anything we buy will have involved various forms of paper or other wood derivatives at some stage along its production line, even if it’s just in the packaging.
Reduction, of course, is about buying only what you really need when you really need it, and pausing to re-examine the dozens of passive snap decisions we’re all guilty of making as habitual consumers over the course of a typical year.
Recycling is equally self-explanatory – it’s hugely important to be mindful not just of how we dispose of waste, but also of how our products are made (recycled versions of pretty much everything we use on a daily basis are available somewhere, if we just make the small effort to seek them out).
Reuse is about giving goods a second lease on life once we’ve finished using them, and it applies as much to other people’s things as our own: donating unwanted items to a second hand or charity store is great, but are you also a customer there? If not, you’re missing out on an easy way to cut your carbon footprint dramatically.
LOOK FOR FSC CERTIFICATION
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification really is the gold standard of global sustainability when it comes to ensuring that paper and wood products come from responsibly managed sources. If it’s been approved by the FSC (and many, many products have) then you know it has not only come from an effectively managed and replenished forest, but also one that provides environmental, social and economic benefits to local communities at the point of origin. If it hasn’t been approved by the FSC – a particularly common problem with many tropical hardwood products, for example – then in all likelihood, its very existence is evidence of ongoing environmental damage.
The average American uses nearly six trees worth of paper each year, according to the FSC. So much of this is needless waste, as digital or recycled versions of almost every paper product you can image are widely available, including books, newspapers and magazines, copier paper, cards and toilet roll.
- Where possible, learn to use digital and online filing systems properly, rather than relying on printing files and storing them physically.
- Never buy disposable paper items like plates and cups when reusable versions will work far better for just a little more effort.
- Block all unsolicited direct mailouts by registering your address with a national mail preference service in your country, and always take your bank and billing companies up on their offers to switch to digital-only statements and invoices.
EAT LESS MEAT
We’ve all known for a long time that there are considerable health benefits to reducing the amount of red meat we consume, but few of us keep in mind the direct link between our favourite drive-through hamburger and the truly catastrophic impact of large-scale meat production on our global forests. Millions of acres are cleared annually to create grazing space for livestock to be pumped directly into the food chain, and the short-term impact on our planet’s ability to process the resulting atmospheric pollutants is shockingly profound. Buy only local organically reared meat as an occasional indulgence if you wish, and eat more vegetarian meals as part of a balanced diet; both are healthy and delicious ways to help our forests fight back.
While the global meat industry is pretty devastating on its own, the effect is worsened considerably by intensive harvesting of numerous other consumer products we find in a wide range of daily-use items.
Palm oil is one particularly troubling ingredient, responsible for aggressive deforestation on an incredible scale. And it’s pretty much everywhere – just take a quick look at the ingredients of your cereals, baked goods, margarine, confectionery, shampoo, cosmetics, cleaning agents, washing detergents and toothpaste if you don’t believe us! However, it’s reasonably easy to be responsible on this front, too: variants of all of these products are easy to find that either avoid palm oil entirely, or that use only palm oil derived from sustainable sources. Equally, do your best to seek out tea, coffee and other products that are grown and harvested on responsibly managed land.
JOIN AN ORGANISATION
There are many helpful bodies playing an active role in rainforest conservation, and nearly all of them welcome new memberships. The World Wide Fund for Nature, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are all obvious places to start. If full membership isn’t something you want to sign up for, there are multiple other options – Rainforest Concern, for example, allow you to sponsor an acre of rainforest for a modest annual fee, which makes a great gift for any environmentally conscious friend. And much closer to home, GreenPop do so much for reforestation in Platbos and beyond.
Article contributed by Sam Butterworth.
For inspiration on how to reduce, reuse and recycle browse our page on Waste-Free Living.
If you’re interested in reading about more ways you can reduce your impact on the envronment, this article sheds light on why you should create a greener, plastic-free lifestyle.
Not sure exactly how you personally can turn out less plastic waste? Here’s your Plastic-Free Lifestyle Checklist.