Rainforests are one of the Earth’s most vital and beautiful assets. They provide the oxygen we breathe and the water we drink. They absorb CO2, stabilise climate patterns, and house half the world’s plant and animal species.
Every minute we lose enough of the rainforest to equate to 40 football fields, with deforestation producing 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Stopping deforestation, restoring forests and improving forestry practices could remove 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, more than taking all of the world’s 1.2 billion cars off the road.
As today is World Rainforest Day, here are some of the ways, big and small, that you can play a part in protecting the rainforest:
1. Support Indigenous rights
There are over 370 million Indigenous people living across 90 countries worldwide; 80% of the most biodiverse areas on Earth are homes to Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. Indigenous people have sought recognition of their identities, cultures and legal rights to traditional lands, territories and natural resources for years, yet their rights continue to be violated today. Indigenous communities know more about caring for their lands and protecting biodiversity than anyone else, as they have been managing them for millennia.
Indigenous voices need to be at the forefront of global environmental efforts, otherwise colonial and violent conservation takes over. Western conservation is often a colonial tool: conservation organisations fund militarised conservation which leads to the persecution of Indigenous people, they partner with the big businesses that steal tribal lands, and they drive the projects that result in illegal evictions. The conservation areas created also often adapt to accommodate mining and logging. Granting land rights to Indigenous people would put a stop to this.
Watch this short documentary (10 minutes) showing what Tribal Peoples are doing to protect their rainforests in the Amazon.
2. Contact governments
In Peru, only 50 indigenous communities have gotten land rights since 2007, while 35,658 mining concessions have been approved. It is far easier to get permits for logging, mining or exploring for oil in 3 steps, while Indigenous communities have to go through 27 steps to get a land title.
Survival International is asking people to write a letter for Matsés Indians, known also as the Jaguar People, who are Indigenous to the Peruvian/Brazilian Amazon, which you can do here.
Rainforest Foundation is urging people to email the Peruvian President to insist that the government streamline the process to title indigenous lands: firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Support Rainforest Action Network
Rainforest Action Network has a long history of fighting for the rainforest, organising boycotts that are designed to have the most impact and working to support Forest People. In 1985 RAN launched a boycott of Burger King, which was importing cheap beef from tropical rainforest countries. Two years later Burger King cancelled thirty-five million dollars worth of beef contracts and agreed to stop importing beef from the rainforest. Most recently RAN led a two-year campaign against the largest home improvement retailers and home builders, resulting in an agreement to phase out the sale and use of wood from the Earth’s endangered forests.
RAN also runs the Protect-an-Acre Program, an alternative to buy-an-acre programmes that often ignore Indigenous people living in the forest. Protect-an-Acre provides funding to help Forest People regain control of their territories; helping them launch successful land title initiatives, create community education programs, develop sustainable economic alternatives and build lasting grassroots resistance to destructive activities such as logging.
4. Hold businesses accountable
Corporations are motivated by money, meaning that mass public pressure and holding them accountable for environmentally destructive businesses practices is one of the best ways to reach them. Contact businesses to express your concern over their actions, organise a boycott, sign petitions, or call them out on social media to spread the word.
5. Reduce your beef consumption
Alongside palm oil, soy and wood, beef is one of the four commodities driving tropical deforestation. Beef is by far the most destructive, research suggests its the number one driver of global deforestation. Beef was responsible for 71% of total deforestation in South America between 1990 and 2005, versus just over 17% for all other agricultural drivers combined—including soybeans.
Reducing beef consumption not only reduces demand, cutting back on rainforest clearance for cattle, it also reduces emissions as cattle emit large amounts of methane and nitrous oxide, and reduces deforestation from soy production, as most soy is grown for animal feed.
Whether this looks like shifting to more plantbased eating, choosing poultry over beef, or supporting localised regenerative agriculture instead, reducing your beef consumption and avoiding non-local products that could have originated in the rainforest is a good way to ensure you don’t fund deforestation.
6. Palm oil
The impact of palm oil on the rainforest is widely known these days, ever since the issue began to go viral at the end of 2018. I wrote an in-depth post at the time, which talked about the various supply chain problems and environmental destruction that extreme palm oil production causes, which I would definitely recommend reading for a fuller understanding of all the issues.
As a general rule, my approach to palm oil is not as simple as just boycotting it, or asking for sustainable palm oil as the certification process is somewhat murky. If we continue to eat high amounts of processed foods and demanding them be palm oil-free, it’s likely that brands will just replace palm oil with less sustainable vegetable oils that require more land for the same amount of yield. Palm oil is an incredibly efficient crop, the issue lies in an incredibly high demand that leads to monocultures and rainforest clearing to try and meet these goals. As new information comes to light about the health issues of ultraprocessed foods, my suggestion is to try to move away from processed foods that contain palm oil, and towards more whole foods and cooking at home, as much as is possible for you. To quote myself:
Ethical consumer has a brilliant list of palm oil free brands and those that aren’t, but get best marks (they also incorporate external criticisms, such as those from Greenpeace, of companies’ palm oil supply chains), and so I trust this list over any product that slaps an RSPO certification on the packaging. The growing use of palm oil is also often linked to the consumption of processed foods, so lifestyle changes like cooking for ourselves with fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, if we are able to, will naturally reduce our reliance on palm oil.
These kinds of changes also often have other positive effects. For example deciding to only buy chocolate from a supplier like Divine rather than Mars: not only is their chocolate palm oil free, but it also is created in a direct trade, slavery free supply chain, which is a double win! If we shift how and what we are consuming en masse then overall demand is reduced, rather than simply replacing palm with another oil, which could lead to a greenwashy movement with a less sustainable supply chain than before.
7. Reduce paper and wood consumption
Logging is also a major issue in the rainforest, as logging companies cut down endangered forests to make wood and paper. Simple choices such as choosing recycled and sustainable toilet paper, going paperless wherever possible, avoiding single-use products even if they are made from paper, using reclaimed and recycled wood, or looking for FSC certified options, can be helpful in reducing demand.
8. Declare yourself an earth protector
Look, I know I talk about this all the time, but there’s a reason for it. Not only do I massively believe in this tactic, but new people might also also be reading this who haven’t heard me talk about it yet, and I want everyone to get on board.
The international movement to implement an Ecocide Law makes any actions which cause serious loss, damage or destruction to ecosystems, climate, and culture, illegal. Logging and mining in the rainforest falls into many of these categories, so I’d like to see this become law so we can put a stop to it and restore Indigenous rights. Rather than individual laws for each country, the Earth Protector movement is working to add Ecocide to the Rome Statute, which will make it an international law that applies to everyone. It’s also easy to implement, as the small countries who are most affected by climate breakdown are able to put this law on the table, all it needs is our backing.
Beyond these specific actions points, as always we need to be working towards dramatically reducing global heating caused by emissions. This is not only about our individual carbon footprints but how we vote, how we protest, how we boycott, and how we demand systemic change.
We can do it. Keep fighting.