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7 January 2001 Issue
What To Avoid To Spare The Rainforests

from the Macaw Landing Foundation - mlf@cnnw.net 

* Tropical Hardwoods
Woods such as tropical plywood (sometimes called lauan or meranti in the stores), mahogany, teak, rosewood, wenge, cocobolo, zebrawood, paduak and ramin are all highly detrimental to the rainforests. Demand for these species is driving devastating logging, both legal and illegal, throughout the rainforests of the world. Logging is the number one cause of rainforest destruction in S.E. Asia. Philippines is now 80% deforested, Thailand, 80%, and two Malaysian states, 50%, all for logging for plywood. The US is the second largest importer of tropical hardwoods. The plywood is used for paneling, door skins, sub-flooring and sub-roofing, furniture backing and picture frame backing. The other woods are found mostly in furniture (all), futons (mahogany, ramin) but also in musical instruments (ebony, mahogany), picture frames (teak, rosewood, ramin), and even tool handles (ramin).

What you can do: Avoid any wood product that you cannot identify as domestic. For plywood, use domestic softwood plywood (pine and spruce) or domestic hardwood plywood (maple and birch). Avoid tools with wooden handles unless they are oak, ash or hickory. Buy used furniture or antiques. Always ask if any tropical woods are independently certified, such as Smart Wood (tm). These are okay to buy.

* Bananas
This, the most popular fruit in the world, is responsible for massive degradation of the land, chemicalization, worker poisoning, and oppression. Workers all over the tropics are now attempting to organize for better conditions, but are being fired for it. New rainforests are being cleared daily for more plantations. Currently, no fresh banana available in the US is grown in a way that is not detrimental to the rainforests. Organic is better, but even those are grown on plantations that used to be rainforests. Good for Dole, bad for the rainforests.

What you can do: Until bananas can be certified as Rainforest Safe (tm), the best bet is to avoid them entirely. If you must have bananas, eat only organic. Ask your grocer to order Rainforest Farms (tm) dried bananas. Eat locally grown produce, such as peaches and apples.

* Coffee
Coffee is highly responsible for the continuing loss of rainforests. Coffee growers in Central and South America are being convinced to convert their "shade-grown" coffee plantations into high-yield monocultures. This necessitates much higher use of chemicals, since the full-sun varieties (developed with the help of US scientists) is much less hearty. Vast areas of formerly productive coffee farms are being turned into chemicalized deserts. Birds using the farms drop from 93% of those in primary forests, to 3%. Good for those with stock in Monsanto, but bad for the rainforests.

What you can do: Avoid coffee unless it is organic and shade-grown, and co-op grown. You can find this at specialty shops (almost all coffee from Africa and Asia is such), or look for labels such as Equal Exchange, Thanksgiving Coffee, Frontier Coffee and the Organic Coffee Company.

* Chocolate
Much of Central West Africa's rainforests have been converted to cocoa plantations. The workers are being poisoned from the use of agricultural chemicals and those shelling the nuts are contracting cancers of the hands and skin. This is now expanding to Central and South America.

What you can do: Avoid chocolate unless it is organically grown. Newman's Own Organics and Cloud Nine use organic chocolate from a co-op in Costa Rica.

* Beef
The largest cause of deforestation in Central America. The US is the largest importer of Central American beef. Because of its poor quality, it is used in processed beef products.

What you can do: Avoid all processed beef (hotdogs, hamburgers and dog and cat food).

* Paper
More and more, temperate rainforests are being converted to tree farms for production of paper, be it newsprint, magazine paper or copy paper. In the process, jobs are lost through greater mechanization and exports of raw trees. The same is happening in the tropics as large corporations convert tropical forests to pulp plantations of non-native species. This dooms the wildlife and native peoples. The top exporters of paper to the US are Canada, Brazil and Indonesia, all countries where rainforests are being converted to paper plantations. All because our demand for paper is insatiable. According to the US Forest Service, our demand for paper has doubled since 1950, and will double again by 2040! Much of the last doubling was packaging; the current one is office paper.

What you can do: Entirely avoid disposable paper products. Use real plates, napkins and bring a mug with you for drinks. Share newspapers with neighbors. Clean and recycle everything made of paper. Seek out paper with recycled content. Avoid packaged foods and use a reusable shopping bag. At the office, copy both sides, and use already used paper for draft print-outs and memos.

* Aluminum
Aluminum requires massive inputs of energy to mine, process and form into products. The entire Columbia River basin in the Northwest US was dammed to provide cheap power to the US aluminum industry. This has totally destroyed the Northwest fishing industry, which provided many more jobs and income. Now that power rates are climbing there, US companies, such as Alcoa and Reynolds, are mining aluminum in Central and South America. Venezuela is seeking to become the world's top aluminum producer. In the process, rainforest rivers are dammed for hydro power, vast areas of rainforests are flooded, human populations are displaced, and entire species wiped out. 70% of our aluminum is made into beverage cans.

What you can do: Avoid aluminum if you can, but since aluminum recycles completely, if you use it, make sure you recycle it. All of it. You can save the energy equivalent to a beverage can of gasoline just by recycling that aluminum can! Making aluminum from recycled aluminum requires only 5% of the energy to make it from ore!

* Gold
More than anything else, the quest for gold has been responsible for wiping out indigenous cultures the world over. And the process continues. In the US, gold was the greatest factor in wiping out native Americans. In the Amazon, gold miners constantly invade indigenous lands, murdering Indians and spreading deadly diseases. Entire ecosystems are contaminated from the chemicals used to process gold. In Papua New Guinea, the Ok Tedi gold mine "the world's largest" has silted the river with contaminated tailings, killing it and making life along the river impossible. The natives are suing the company. Recently in Guyana a tailings dam broke, spilling cyanide into the river, killing it for 5 miles downstream. The company was not kicked out -- on the contrary, they received approval to expand the mine. 70% of gold production goes to making jewelry.

What you can do: Avoid gold entirely. There is no good reason to buy it. If you own it, consider selling it.

* Oil
Vast areas of rainforests in Ecuador, Bolivia, Indonesia and Nigeria have been contaminated by oil drilling operations. The natives of Ecuador are suing Texaco to clean up the mess it left from 22 years of oil production in the middle of pristine rainforests in a National Park. According to the government's own figures, Texaco spilled 1.5-times the amount of the Exxon Valdez spill in 17 years, just from the main pipeline! In Nigeria, activists attempting to get Shell to clean up the mess it has made of the Ogoni homeland were recently hung by the military dictatorship. 50% of the oil we import is used to fuel our cars. 40% goes to make electricity.

What you can do: Drive less, walk, use a bicycle or mass transit. Car pool, ask your neighbors when they are going out. Turn out the lights unless absolutely necessary. Install energy efficient lighting (this saves you lots of money, too!). Turn down the thermostat in the winter and turn off the air conditioner. Recycling saves great amounts of energy as well, as does buying used items.

* Steel (Iron)
In Brazil, the Carajas iron mine, the world's largest, uses charcoal made from the surrounding forests to process the iron. This mine is estimated to consume 16% of the Amazon forests by the time it is spent!

What you can do: Sell your car and don't buy another one. Recycle all metal objects. Most towns now have bulk recycling or try the phone book under "recycling".

While we tend to narrow our focus in our daily lives, and indeed, such concentration is essential to accomplishing our goals, we encourage you to take a thoughtful look at the BIG picture too. For inherent in the conservation of one species or one small habitat or one isolated indigenous group is the preservation of the Earth's entire health. We are living on a planet with a population increase that is out of control. There are now more people alive on our planet than have ever walked its face since the beginning of time and humans continue to damage our environment at an unprecedented rate. More than a third of the planet's plant and animal species exist exclusively on a scant 1.4 percent of its land surface, which is mostly rainforests. We are losing this rainforest at the rate of 1 1/2 acres a SECOND, to provide the developed world with oil, steel, wood, bananas, coffee, gold, beef, chocolate, paper and aluminum, to name just a few items. In Brazil we are losing the dryforest at an even greater rate to make room for cattle ranching, soy farming and steel production. We have a population of several million indigenous people living in the rainforest, many of whom prefer no contact with the outside world because they fear extinction. The Siona indigenous people of Ecuador and Colombia numbered several thousand before Texaco entered their lands to drill for oil. Today they number less than 500, and because of the polluted water supply in the rainforest they are developing cancer. Texaco spilled 17 million gallons of raw crude oil in the rainforest of Ecuador, and left it. (See www.MacawLanding.org for related articles.) That's over half again as much as the Exxon Valdez spilled in Alaska. There is a ten-year-old lawsuit pending against Texaco by the Siona people for one billion dollars, the cost to clean up the oil, which Texaco has refused to do. The rough-shod attitudes and methods of some large, well known companies drive other indigenous people to retreat farther into the rainforest to avoid persecution, harassment and ultimately, death. The U'wa indigenous people of Ecuador have had to threaten mass suicide to stall Occidental from drilling on their lands.

Go on to The Stray Rogue
Return to 7 January 2001 Issue
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