No matter who you are or where you are in the world, our lives are intricately linked to the rainforests of this beautiful planet. The forests of Borneo and Indonesia are among the most biologically diverse habitats on Earth, home to a diverse population of species such as orangutans, clouded leopards, and pygmy elephants. But as in many tropical areas around the world, these treasured rainforests are being cut and degraded for timber, palm oil, pulp, rubber, and minerals endangering the existence of valuable species, which includes the human race.
This is World Rainforest Week, time to pause and breathe in the air around you. Rainforests are the lungs of the planet and they produce over 40% of the world’s oxygen and therefore we directly depend on them for our survival.
Through a combination of industrial deforestation and forest fire almost a third of Borneo’s rainforests have been destroyed over the last 40 years. Intact lowland rainforest, which houses the highest levels of plant and animals and carbon have been the hardest hit declining by 73% since the early 1970’s. Deforestation alone accounts for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions - that’s more than the global transportation sector and is second only to the energy sector.
"Check out this counter, where you can check all kinds of deforestations statistics in real time. It shows that every year, 130,000 square kilometers of forests are either burned or cut down. That’s three times the size of Denmark or a football field every 1.4 seconds." (via greenandgrowing.org - Nov 16th, 2017)
Tropical rainforests absorb and store huge amounts of carbon in their trees and peat swamps. Their destruction combined with the burning of coal, oil, and gas mean that our oceans have to absorb more heat, which then leads to changes in water vapor levels in our atmosphere which then can lead to extreme weather conditions such as heavy rainfall, flooding and prolonged periods of drought. Droughts naturally lead to increased risk of forest fires where stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere – completing the vicious cycle of climate change.
It is imperative that the rest of the world understands what is happening to our rainforests and why we need them. Here are some sobering statistics:
13 million hectares of forest have been converted for other uses or destroyed by natural causes.
Up to 28,000 species could become extinct in the next quarter century due to deforestation.
By the year 2030, we might only have 10% of Rainforests left and it can all disappear in a hundred years.
Only 10% of the world’s forests are now protected areas, which is roughly the size of India.
Tropical Rainforests store more than 210 gigatons of carbon and deforestation is the cause of 15% of carbon emissions.
Cures for diseases have been found in plants and the raw materials come from our tropical rainforests.
Much of the rainforest deforestation in Malaysian Borneo and Indonesia is due to the Palm Oil industry. Indonesia and Malaysia – home of the Orangutan, produce 90% of the global Palm Oil output. Palm oil is so popular because it has the highest per hectare yield of all edible oils. The area of land planted with the crop has trebled in the last 30 years and around half of all supermarket products – not just food products - contain traces of palm oil.
The plantations harbor very little in the way of biodiversity and many species of wildlife - not just Orangutans - are viewed as crop raiding pests, and in many instances, they are killed. New roads into remote areas with little policing often results in hunting. Orangutans are taken from the wild for food, pets, and use in traditional medicine. This encroachment is fuelled by the international trade of endangered species, which has become a global pandemic driving countless species towards extinction and disrupting the natural balance of our forests.
One of Orangutan Appeal UK’s key schemes is to work with local people in Borneo to educate them about the need to protect the rainforest and the animals within them. Working in conjunction with Sabbah Wildlife Department the creation of stop and search honorary wardens from local communities allows intensive patrolling and monitoring of Sabbah’s protected area network and significantly assists local efforts to combat illegal poaching and wildlife trade.
The Orangutan is Ambassador for the Rainforest
The chopping down of our rainforest and the subsequent warming of our planet is indisputable. We live in an era characterized by the shaping of earth and its weather systems by humans. Much of the increased need for energy, food, and land use, unfortunately, comes at the expense of the tropical forests in developing countries where the land is cheapest and most fertile.
These regions, such as Borneo and Sumatra, are the home of the Orangutan and the plight of these incredible animals is symptomatic of Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s rapidly developing rural economies.
The rainforest is the Orangutans preferred habitat, which is so integral to the health of the global environment. Therefore the Orangutans as one of the closest living cousins to humans - both genetically and behaviorally – is the perfect the ambassador species for protecting the tropical rainforests and climate-regulating services they provide.
On a purely ecological basis Orangutans are wide-ranging solitary creatures that depend on hundreds of different plant species spread widely in the rainforest. This makes them the perfect umbrella species as by protecting their needs – by extension protect all the other animals, and the rainforest itself, which we know plays such a vital role in combating climate change.
5 things you can do to help save the rainforest
- Palm oil, found in half of all processed foods in the US, and many common household products is a key contributor to rainforest deforestation! Read your food and product labels carefully and support suppliers who only use sustainable palm oil or insist on sustainable alternatives.
- Fundraise – Sting used to finance the Rainforest Foundation at its inception. You could hold a concert or sell lemonade, hold organized talks on the rainforest or run marathons.
- The more people know what is happening to rainforests and the Indigenous communities who rely on them the more likely they are to help! Governments need to know that their citizens care and that people around the world are watching; by sharing this blog on social media we help to hold them accountable. Today nations around the world are making commitments to protect our forests and reduce climate change–help them keep their promises. Knowledge helps! Speaking out helps!
- Buy responsibly sourced products - Whether it’s ensuring that your next pair of gold earrings are made from recycled gold, or purchasing recycled toilet paper there are purchases anyone can make that make a difference. Avoiding guitars, furniture and other products made from threatened rainforest woods like Mahogany, Rosewood and Ebony is a great start, but avoiding all tropical hardwoods is even better!
- Reduce your Footprint - We are all connected to the Rainforest. Reduce your dependence on oil and just consume less. Limit new purchases, bike to school or to work, set your thermostat a couple of degrees lower in the winter, add solar panels to the roof of your home, eat locally-produced foods by shopping at farmers markets, recycle, look for wind or solar powered electricity providers and make the switch.
How can you help to celebrate World Rainforest Day?
One of the best ways to help the plight of the Orangutan is to adopt one. I have an adopted Orangutan called Bidu Bidu. He is adorable and is now well on his way to being fully rehabilitated and will hopefully one day be released back into the rainforests of Borneo. It’s easy - Just contact www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk and adopt today. You will receive and an adoption pack with photos of your Orangutan and given regular updates on their progress. For just £36/ year you can help take this beautiful animal off the critically endangered list.
Hold a movie screening and discussion showing the documentary “Green”: Green tells a moving story about the corporate conversion of rainforests in Indonesia for palm oil, tropical wood, and paper through the eyes of a dying orangutan. As you may already know, almost 90% of orangutan habitat has already disappeared. If current trends of deforestation continue, the orangutan will be extinct in the near future. Green can be downloaded for free at http://greenfilm.free.fr/.
Gather petition signatures demanding that Cargill adopt and implement a global forest policy. Our petition can be downloaded at http://action.ran.org/images/a/ac/Cargill_Petition.pdf. And you can find more information about Cargill’s role in rainforest destruction for palm oil plantations and download factsheets at http://action.ran.org/index.php/Cargill. (Please return all signed petitions to RAN!)