In a world of uncertainty, global pandemics and growing conflicts, it’s easy to feel out of control. And in those moments of panic, worry and sheer confusion, so many of us seek solace in nature. Whether it’s a walk in the woods or feeling the grass between our toes, it’s the simplicity of getting back to basics and breathing in fresh, clean air that can be a tonic for our turmoil. But with one and one-half acres of rainforest lost every second, what is now a humble escapism for our troubles could be the undoing of our planet. It’s a concept we often take for granted but, with an ecosystem in danger and a generation to save it in time, how can we secure the future of our rainforests before it’s too late?
A question that has never been so prevalent since the world helplessly watched 73,000 fires burn through the Amazon rainforest in 2019 – a 77% year-to-year increase. Known as the “lungs of our planet” as it accounts for 20% of the world’s oxygen alone, the Brazilian rainforest covers over a billion acres and is home to one-fifth of the world’s fresh water supply, making its welfare a global concern as opposed to a local one. Alongside climate change and endangered species, it’s easy to file deforestation under ‘forces of nature we can’t control’ but the reality is a very different story.
Once covering 14% of the earth’s land surface, rainforests now occupy a mere 6% with experts predicting that the last remaining jungles could be consumed in less than 40 years. Economist Monica de Bolle likened the rainforest, to a “carbon bomb”, as the fires lit for deforestation “may release as much as 200 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere a year, which would spur climate change at a much faster rate, not to mention associated changes in rainfall patterns that may result from deforestation.” Home to nearly half of the world’s species of plants, animals and microorganisms, experts believe that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. That equates to 50,000 species a year.
But it’s not just the environment inside the rainforests that are in peril, for those of us outside the canopy, our very survival is dependent on its future. As the rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases as 121 prescription drugs sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources in the rainforest. While 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less that 1% of these tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists.
It’s a lot of statistics but it’s only when we see the devastation in numbers that we can grasp the urgency of such a cause. And the culprit? Well…us. The value of rainforest land for timber, materials and products is too tempting for short-sighted governments, multi-national companies, and land owners alike. Cleared by chainsaws, bulldozers and fires for its timber value, rainforests are also fair game for farming and ranching operations, even by world giants like Mitsubishi Corporation, Gerogia Pacific, Texaco and Unocal.
Annette Piperidis, Sustainable Sourcing Manager of Butterfly Mark certified brand Weleda UK, is all too aware of the lucrative results of deforestation despite the brand’s best efforts. “Unfortunately, there are more threats to the rainforests than most of us are aware of,” she says. “These include soy cultivation and palm oil for the food industry, wood, paper, aluminium, which is produced from Bauxite (an ore that is naturally stored below the rainforest) and lots of precious metals in the ground, including gold and diamonds making mining another reason for deforestation. Bearing all of this in mind, all of us should think carefully about whether a product is really needed, and whether there is a more sustainable alternative. If we can simply reduce our consumption, we can already save a lot.”
Although some products can’t be eliminated altogether, the responsibility of exploring the source lies with us. “When using raw materials that might be growing in rainforest areas (for example palm oil) we at Weleda have an internal policy that we use RSPO Mass Balanced certified raw materials only,” Annette says. “In addition to this, we are very actively engaged in FONAP – the forum for sustainable palm oil. As we feel that the use of palm oil still requires more action, to protect against deforestation, we are supporting a charity project with conservationists Borneo Orangutan Survival, to restore degraded peat swamp forests in Indonesia. With this project there is reforestation on 55 ha, undertaken by local people, which creates income for those communities and gives them greater incentive to protect the surrounding area of rainforest.”
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways in which we, as consumers, can contribute to the rainforest efforts. Brands such as beauty giant Origins regularly host tree planting events with The National Trust and have planted 1,307,847 trees in partnership with American Forest’s Global ReLeaf and other environment NGOs around the world. “We plant saplings—not merely seeds—and we dedicate resources to make sure they receive the care they need to have a better chance at maturing into strong, healthy trees,” the brand explains. “These trees help restore areas damaged by wildfires and natural disaster, help to keep our air and water clean, reduce air pollution and offset the effects of greenhouse gases and absorb gaseous pollutant”
Although saving the rainforest can seem like an overwhelming task, too big for an individual to make a dent in, Melita Koulmandas Hunter, co-founder of Butterfly Mark certified Song Saa Collective, a private island resort in Cambodia using reclaimed timber and upcycled décor believes it all starts with a mindset. “Being a more conscious consumer often requires time and a difficult behavioural change,” she begins. “My recommendation is to spend a little time researching the big businesses whose supply chains drive deforestation – the likes of JP Morgan Chase, Costco, Walmart, large supermarkets, and many more – and then connect the dots with the goods and services you like to buy. Ethical, sustainable businesses have often put so much effort and heart into their brand and shopping experience. It’s about taking our power back, having agency over it, and having it be a force for good.”
A concept that can only start when we stop looking away and confront the uncomfortable notion that rainforests have a very real expiration date. “The hurt, discomfort, and anxiety that we feel knowing something is about to be lost is called ‘anticipatory grief’,” Melita explains. “While it’s not the most uplifting exploration, it’s an important one. The more we can process our climate emotions towards the rainforest, the more we can grow from a place of discomfort and anxiety and reinvigorate our energies towards insisting on what we want.”
5 QUICK AND EASY WAYS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Join the fight for our rainforests with Annette’s top tips
Think carefully about whether a product is really needed, and whether there is a more sustainable alternative. If we can simply reduce our consumption, we can already save a lot.
Request politicians introduce legislation that protects rainforests, we can financially support NGOs that restore or protect rainforests.
Reduce our use of paper with a paper-free office, or swap to the charity search engine Ecosia (which donates 80% of profits towards reforestation) when using the internet.
LOOK FOR LOGOS
Get familiar with labels on your cosmetics, such as the Rainforest Alliance, RSPO, UEBT and FSC are just a few.
Check manufacturers’ certifications or policies on their websites. Look for sustainability programmes and annual sustainability reports.