Tropical rainforests are increasingly finding themselves in the crosshairs of a world that is adding inhabitants at a rapid pace. Nowhere is that more evident than the continuing deforestation of the Amazon Basin Rainforest. After seven-years of declining deforestation trends in the region from 2004-2011 the last few years have seen the numbers head in the opposite direction, now showing triple digit increases over the year before. The best estimates show that twenty percent of the rainforest is gone, but there is hope for the rest. Here is what you can do in your daily routine to help stem the tide.
Drive a Hybrid or Electric Car
Brazil is one of the top fifteen oil producing countries in the world, and increasingly drillers are looking towards the rainforest in their search for oil. Besides clearing away foliage and polluting the eco-system, one of the biggest issues caused is the construction of roads deep into virgin territory. "As roads go further into the Amazon, unfortunately they open up areas that otherwise would be hidden to exploitation," says Andre Guimaraes Vice President of Development at Conservation International. "Once a road is laid it is only a matter of time until we see the forest starting to getting cut back by farmers and ranchers."
Eat Locally Sourced Beef
Brazilian cattle farmers are responsible for up to seventy percent of the deforestation in the Amazon. As the second largest exporter of beef in the world, Brazil has been putting pressure on the American government to allow more of its beef to be imported into the states. Add in the fact that the cattle are fed soy based feed and you are doubling down on the damage done. "Most pasture lands in the Amazon Basin last five to ten-years before farmers have to move on," says Andre Guimaraes of Conservation International. "Fully three quarters of the cleared rainforest land is for pasture land, it is the single biggest destroyer in the region."
Don't buy Mahogany wood
"Most of the Mahogany wood imported from Brazil is illegal," says Andre Guimaraes of Conservation International. "It is funneled through lumber producers that cut forest illegally and then ship wood out of the country." A symbol of wealth and power Mahogany is sought-after across the planet, with a single tree worth thousands of dollars. That unfortunately has led to widespread lumber poaching across the Amazon Basin, and directly caused whole stands of forest to disappear forever—until they resurface as end tables and bars.
Approximately 34% of all timber harvested from the Amazon rainforest is exported to foreign countries. The largest market for Brazilian wood is the United States. When shopping for wood look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo, an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable forestry that certifies lumber operations for good stewardship.
Buy Precious Metals from Eco-Friendly companies.
Even though gold mining in the rainforest is on a smaller scale, the damage it causes is catastrophic. The open pit mines used to extract precious metals from the rainforest leave scars that don't heal for centuries, chemical contamination from mercury and cyanide used to extract gold from rock lingers, and rivers are polluted from runoff. "The bigger problem is from the roads that are torn through the forest to access mine sites," says Andre Guimaraes Vice President of Development at Conservation International. "They serve as conduits into the interior that inevitably brings more exploitation."
Donate to Environmental Organizations
Whether they are on the ground educating the local populace, in the halls of government fighting for tougher protections, or putting the heat on multinational companies to clean up their practices, many non-profit organizations are the first line of defense against further rainforest destruction. And they need your financial support. "Some of the best work being done to help the rainforest is being done by non-profits that have people on the ground investigating issues throughout the region." Says Paulo Barreto Senior Researcher at IMAZON. "They help raise peoples awareness in both Brazil and abroad."
Support an online campaign
Social media is rapidly becoming a highly effective tool at changing corporate mindsets. Unlike twenty to thirty years ago when it could take years to effectively spread a message to the populace, today it can take days. "One thing that individuals can do is support NGO's like Greenpeace as they wage online campaigns against corporate abuse of the Amazon," says Paulo Barreto Senior Researcher at IMAZON. "The power of social media to make these companies change their behaviors is huge, we see it in the field repeatedly."
Consume Less Soy
Soy is a major part of all of our diets, and one of the larger crops on the planet. It has doubled in size since the mid-1990's, and is increasingly moving into the Amazonian basin. Due to low labor costs, abundant water, and large amounts of fertile land soy producers have moved into the region. As a major ingredient in animal feed global demand for chicken, beef, and pork have helped fuel demand for soy. "One of the biggest threats to the Amazon Rainforest these days is soy production," says Andre Guimaraes Vice President of Development at Conservation International. "It substantially degrades and alters the characteristics of the forest so its almost impossible for the rainforest to grow back after you clear an area for a soy plantation."
Free-range meats and poultry are one of the best things you can do to avoid soy. Stores like Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, and Trader Joe's offer excellent organic foods and will help you avoid soy. If you can't make there, make sure to read your labels well, and avoid ingredients like MSG, HVP, and TVP.