The Amazon Rainforest serves as the lungs of the Earth. Recently, with all the infernos raging across these South American woodlands, our attention has again turned to saving our planet’s natural areas. A long time ago (well, actually not so long), there were forest in North America, Europe, Asia, and even Africa. Gradual climate change, as well as rampant deforestation in the name of progress, has left us with fewer and fewer forested areas on our planet. Why is this significant? Without the woodlands, levels of CO2 can rise, leading to catastrophic results.
Now, many do not “believe” in climate change, but it’s simple science. CO2 is a “greenhouse gas”, and more of it makes temperatures rise, trapping heat in our atmosphere. And without trees and areas of lush greenery, there will be less oxygen in the air. In fact, this is how NASA plans to terraform Mars, by using living trees and plants to slowly add vital oxygen to the air on the red planet.
So why should we even care? The Amazon is so far away, it seems like it wouldn’t matter. But it does. According to Greenpeace, in the last forty years, nearly one fifth of the Amazon rainforest has been decimated. Why? Primarily to serve us! Cattle ranchers, greedy loggers, and soy plantations are all to blame. Of course, the Amazon is home to indigenous peoples who rely on the forests to stay alive and maintain their way of life. Not to mention birds, insects, fish, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Pretty much every form of life depends on the forests and the ecosystems trees foster and feed.
Already, insect populations have dropped substantially, including bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, dragonflies, and damselflies. “Who cares?” you might be muttering under your breathe. Birds and other animals feed on insects; there is a food chain and insects are at the base. And, some insects pollinate our food and other crops. Habitat destruction, part and parcel of “progress” and industrialized urbanization, as well as climate change, no doubt exacerbated by human activity, all seem to contribute to this loss. In 2018, the German government instituted an “Action Programme for Insect Protection,” after finding a staggering 75% decline in insect population in only 25 years.
If the situation is so dire, is there anything we can even do, as Americans and people of the world? The answer is, without a doubt, yes. While most of us aren’t going to join Greenpeace, there are steps we can all take to help ease the burden on the planet’s fragile ecosystem. Here are some effective plans you can enact now:
1. Plant trees.
Trees are a carbon sink, helping to replenish the soil with carbon, and releasing oxygen as they breathe. The United Nations’ Global Forest Resources Assessment demonstrated that we lose roughly 20 million acres of forested land every five or six years. Over time, that really adds up. Shade trees are best to plant, and it really will make a difference if everyone begins planting now.
Carbon sequestering is best accomplished by fast-growing hardwood trees. If you don’t own a home or have space for trees, you could always opt to donate to a nonprofit that plants trees. There’s “One Tree Planted”, the Nature Conservatory’s “Plant a Billion Trees” campaign, as well as “Trees for the Future.” The National Forest Foundation also plants trees in American National Forests.
2. Buy Locally-Grown and Locally-Manufactured Products.
Of course, there’s nothing like genuine Traditional Specialties Guaranteed (TSG), European Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) products like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from Italy, Thuringer Leberwurst from Germany, U.K.’s Iveagh Rapeseed oil, and other rare food products. Then there’s Italian sports cars, which are second to none in the world, as well as genuine Murano Venetian glass, both items only produced in lands far from the US.
However, for many other items, if you’re not buying local, you’re paying to have the item shipped, sometimes across oceans on a container ship, other times airmailed over on a plane. If the same item can be found produced in your own area, it will save on the fossil fuel, CO2, and other wastes associated with shipment. Not to mention packaging, which itself is a significant pollutant of waterways and landfills. This goes for produce, a well as any other kind of items. If they’re from a place near you, the damage to the environment from shipping is decreased.
Why do you need peppers or onions that are shipped in from thousands of miles away? Get acquainted with local farmers, and buy direct. Local farmers markets may not actually sell local produce, and other food items. Always inquire, and check labels for verification. And, large ships are terrible polluters. It’s a fact. These ships bellow out black clouds of soot and have few regulations.
3. Go Vegan.
Although South American soy farmers are partly responsible for deforestation, going vegan does reduce your carbon footprint and impact on the environment. Recently, many have contested this, however, in order to eat beef or other meats, a significant amount of grain must be diverted to raising these food animals. And again, you can choose to buy soy that is not sourced from South America. While there are new, more environmentally friendly ways to farm meat, on a large scale, these boutique methods cannot sustain an entire population of meat eaters. Factory farming pollutes, no two ways about it.
4. Plant an Organic Garden.
Grow your own, without pesticides or herbicides! In a year, if you grow high-yielding fruits, berries, and vegetables, you will save not only a lot of cash, but also help decrease demand for produce that’s shipped from elsewhere. And, you help to restore your local ecosystem, providing habitat for other living creatures without the hazards created by pesticide and herbicide use. Learn sustainable gardening methods like composting and vermiculture and you’ll save even more by needing less fertilizer and creating a self-feeding loop. Worms really are our friends! And the composted material can feed the worms, our garden, and in the end, us. All those yard clippings would only end up in a local landfill, anyway.
5. Re-Use and Recycle.
We have been living in a throwaway culture for over sixty years. Landfill space is scarce, and landfills give off methane that helps accelerate global warming,as well as leachate, which can destroy local water tables. Marshall McLuhan noted this in the 1950s with his seminal work, The Waste Makers, concentrating on planned obsolescence and our need to always buy new things to feel good.
In the 1960s, McLuhan wrote, The Global Village, a text dealing with “electronic interdependence” of the world’s people, quite a visionary work considering how the Internet has shaped our lives in the last twenty years. In fact, we’re also interdependent ecologically, as the world ecosystems are all connected, a literal web of life.
There are websites and user groups dedicated tot his end, making sure clothing, electronics, and other items stay out of landfills for as long as is possible. Even after an item has exceeded its predicted lifespan, it may yet have use to others. Yard sales and free local classified ads are another way to advertise and showcase items you’re willing to part with, nut not throw away.
6. Barter with Other.
Trading is a great way of keeping all sorts of things out of landfills. The old adage, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure” will always be apt. Bartering is an interesting concept and predates the use of currency. Of course,there are online options that can help you find partners to barter with
7. Organize a Fix-It Group.
In Germany, people meet and hang out over coffee or tea and help one another repair broken items. This novel idea was totally unknown to me until a good friend of mine, from Germany, explained the concept. I thought it was an incredible idea! Helping one another fix damaged items is a great concept; not only do we meet new people and make friends, but help the environment and extend the useful lifetime of items we purchased, increasing the value of every dollar initially spent on the item. Win. Win.
8. Carpool, Take the Train, Walk, or Bike.
We can’t always carpool. And, trains and buses aren’t always an option because of time constraints, as well as the limitation of areas served by public transportation. Obviously, though, both will help cut down your consumption of energy. And, walking is always fun and as long as your destination is local, your own legs can get you pretty far. A bike can get you there faster, so think about your options next time you need to go someplace local. And, you get exercise in the process of getting from point A to point B when you walk, jog, or bike.
9. Go Solar.
Solar Panels are becoming more efficient, and less costly to manufacture, with each passing year. New technologies help solar panels to get the most bang for the buck. Right now, if you depend on electricity , it’s coming from a power plant. Power plants mostly burn oil, though some continue to burn coal. Both have environmental costs associated with energy produced from such fuels. If you’ve waited to go solar, that isn’t so bad. You’ll be able to get a better product at a better price because you waited. Not bad at all.
Businesses and schools all over are covering their parking lots and rooftops with solar panels, using every square foot to help generate electricity from sunlight,offsetting both energy bill costs and helping to save the planet’s ecosystems at the same time.
10. Construct a Ground-Source Home Temperature Control System.
This is far less common than solar panels, but works equally w to save energy. A ground heat exchange system is relatively simple, in principle. Coils are buried in the ground, and antifreeze is pumped through. In the winter, this beings warmth, in summertime, cooling. There are also Solar Home heating Systems that can help heat a building in winter by heating fluid in coils exposed to sunlight, which brings solar radiation into the home using a heat exchange medium, much like in a ground-source system.
Can you think of any other ways we can help save our environment and offset the destruction of the rainforests? Remember, Staten Island was once a lush woodlands, as was most areas that are not deserts or plains. In time, human progress has destroyed Earth’s lungs, which will affect every life-form that depends on oxygen. If you are aware of other methods of helping to do your part for the environment, please contribute in the comments below.