5 Steps to Help Reduce Worldwide Deforestation
I decided to create an infographic about simple actions the average person can take to help combat deforestation, as I couldn’t find anything already out there on the net.
Actually, there’s a bit more to it which you can read about in my rant below if you’re so inclined, but without further a do, here’s the image:
Some nuance – Saving the Rainforests is Complicated
I hope that I have done the topic some justice. This is obviously a complex issue (what isn’t) and complex issues sadly don’t lend themselves to snappy infographics and memes.
I’d therefore like to take the time to clarify some points and put all my cards on the table:
- Meat Reduction vs Veganism
First up, conflict of interest – I earn commission from the sale of grass fed beef in the UK via Green Pasture Farms.
I started this website to promote the consumption of ethical sustainable meat as it is something I believed in, and still do believe in.
I realise, however, that this makes me highly at risk of confirmation bias. Do I still believe it is the best option because it really is, or am I a victim of motivated reasoning? Please make your own decisions.
I’ve written extensively about my views on the benefits of grassfed beef, the ethics of meat eating, and pasture farming v reforestation before so won’t go into more details here.
What I will say is that while I believe some level of meat consumption is better for the planet than strict veganism, I have no idea what level of consumption this should be, and it would vary greatly depending upon your region.
Once per week, once per month, once per year? My solution would be to ban grain feeding, limit land use and let market forces the price and availability of meat. Does this result in £1000 steaks and only the rich eating meat? Possibly. That’s how it was for all of human history.
Do we solve inequality before or after averting an existential catastrophe? Answers on a postcard please…
- What the hell should we eat?
Good question. Undoubtedly, much industrial food production relies on deforestation, excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers and monocroping. All bad.
That said, small scale organic farming has its downsides too – it’s less efficient, uses more land, more water, there’s more food wastage.
Shopping local might reduce carbon footprints, but the international trade of food is one of the major forces closing the gap in financial inequality between nations.
Basically, as I’ve talked about before, what to eat is really flipping complicated.
Start a veg patch. Don’t buy anything that you know comes from unethical megacorps. Try and do your research on everything else.
- Paper – Better than Plastic?
Is a kindle better than heap of paper books?
Can pamphlets and posters galvanise positive social change creating more good than harm?
Is paper packaging better than plastic?
Does paper from renewable well managed sources help make forest more financially viable?
Perhaps if we stopped using paper cups, the timberyard would go out of business and the land sold to a manufacturer of AK47s or cluster bombs.
Perhaps young rapidly growing forests sequester more carbon than old established ones.
Again, there’s no easy answer.
Probably some paper use is sustainable and perhaps can even be beneficial. Young forests however don’t have any where near the biodiversity of old ones.
- What Wood You Do?
Again, pretty much the same answer as for paper and meat.
There’s undoubtedly some level of optimum production/consumption, but where the hell is it?
And optimum for who, when and where? Does more wood use now help poorer workers get out of poverty now, thus leading to a wealthier, better educated next generation who can help save the planet without having to starve to do so?
Again, sorry, I’ve not idea.
- Effective Altruism
Another contentious question.
Many are undoubtedly a huge waste of time and money, either through well meaning ineptitude, unforeseen consequences, or downright fraud.
If you are going to give away your hard earned cash, or volunteer your time, try and make sure it’s got the best possible chance of actually doing some good (or at least not causing harm) by checking out the Effective Altruism Community and pages such as GiveWell.
As for deforestation specifically, if you want to donate money CoolEarth.org appears to have the best track record of value for money.
Planting trees is great. I’ve planted trees in my garden, and I’ve planted trees with a foundation in the wild.
Also consider however that if you have the capacity to earn £100 per hour, perhaps it would be better to do some overtime, and pay someone else to plant the trees on your behalf.
Everybody wins (providing you’re not earning the money working for Evil Corp).
Why did I create this infographic and write this post on deforestation?
I was motivated to write this post/create the infographic after seeing the following meme:
My initial response was rage.
I know without a shadow of a doubt that my friend who shared it means well. She cares about the rainforest, the planet and all its inhabitants.
She shared this meme because she wanted to do something, to take action even though it seems like an insurmountable problem.
So why did it make me angry? Because I honestly believe that it’s effect could actually have the opposite effect.
The slightly paranoid part of me even thinks it could have been created in a Russian Troll Farm at the behest of the Neoliberal Unfettered Free Market Capitalism Fanatics to lull the masses into inaction.
For non Spanish speakers, the meme says:
Worldwide Prayer for the Amazon and Mother Earth
Light your incense, say a mantra, do reiki, meditate or pray to whoever is your creed. Breath, Connect and Visualise the Flames Reduce.Author unknown? Possibly Bolsonaro?
Now this is where I actually had to breath deeply and meditate, and possibly it did do some good.
I have to remember that my friend 100% believes that these actions can have an effect.
I am a skeptic. I think it’s highly unlikely. If there is an effect, it is so small that never in human history has it been demonstrated.
Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that there is harm from doing these actions.
My friend was quick to point out that none of these actions prevent you from also taking concrete steps to battle deforestation, as in the 5 I suggest in the infographic.
On one level I totally agree – it is totally theoretically possible to do all of the actions in both memes.
But I fear that the S.O.S meme does not effectively take into account human psychology. Or, conspiracy brain thinks perhaps they have and it is in fact produced by Machivalian rainforest exploiters.
Motivated Reasoning and Doing Just Enough
If you’ve seen the photos and read the statistics, you’d have to be a psychopath not to want to do something to combat what’s going on in Brazil and many other countries across the world.
But what to do, that is the question?
This meme gives some very easy solutions you can do right now from the comfort of your own home, a small sacrifice of time, but nothing more.
It might not have been much, but you’ve done something at least. Your conscience is appeased. Yes, perhaps there’s more you could do but you can look into that later….
Now of course not everyone will think like that. Some of the most motivated activists I know are ardent believers in the supernatural, spirituality, mother earth etc.
Who knows, perhaps they’re even correct.
There are a lot of people however who simply want to ease their conscience, and memes such as this help them do so, and thus make it less likely they’ll take an action, albeit small, that might actually have a measurable effect.
Try Not to Alienate Your Team Mates
A loaded sentence already.
Teams and tribalism are part of the problem.
It’s already a problem that we have “Us and Them” – The Neoliberals and the Environmentalists.
It’s my belief that memes such as this could also serve (either intentionally or unintentionally) to fracture “Team Environmentalists” into smaller, weaker factions.
I’m not anti-capitalist, I’m not anti-technology. We need to do more to unite all people who care about the planet, regardless of their beliefs and be able to have honest open discussions.
Ultimately we need to try and get everyone on the same page – A balance between markets and capitalism efficiently solving problems, but with better incentives, regulation and factoring in the true costs of public goods.
But how do we get on the same page?
Should I have added a 6th category encouraging people to hope and pray in addition to the other 5 steps? Saying yes these things are important too, but we need to use every resource at our disposition?
Am I really certain that my solutions are better than my friends? 100% certainty is never a wise nor effective strategy.
More Tinfoil Hat Thoughts
I’ve never created an infographic before – why bother when there are already a million out there made much more talented designers than I?
I searched and searched for a clear meme of graphic with simple, evidence based actionable steps that any normal citizen can take (i.e. the ones in the image), and couldn’t find any!
I find it hard to believe that I’m the first person to create such an image – none of the steps are rocket science of huge secrets. You can find articles with the information, but it’s all pretty dense, and there’s nothing I could find that’s highly shareable (an important factor in igniting social change).
Hey – sorry, I don’t go on social media, so possibly it’s rampacked with them, but my google searches brought up nothing?
Plenty on the consequences of inaction, but nothing with advice of how the people can help.
OK, there are some recommending signing petitions and donating to charity, but I think the former is even less useful than the latter.
So my question is are there already better memes out there I can share? If yes, where are they, and why can’t I find them?
At the risk of getting all nihilist – my final thought is again on that of unintended consequences.
I don’t know who made the SOS meme, nor what their intentions were.
I’m pretty sure whatever they were though, they didn’t think it was going to trigger me to make this infographic (which I’ve never done before) nor go on a rant like this.
Again, the problem of the unpredictable consequences of our actions rears its ugly head.
What the hell are we supposed to do?
I do not believe that prayer or good vibes are going to save the planet.
But what if all my ideas are wrong too!
What if rapid changing patterns in consumption cause a catastrophic global economic crash, leading to a leap backwards into poverty, mas starvation, disease and the inevitable consequence, war?
I refer you to someone who’s spent a lot more time thinking about it than me.
I don’t have the answers, only more questions – though I do think it’s very important we try and think very hard about the possible impacts of our choices, intended or otherwise and try not to be angry or dismissive when someone believes in different solutions to you.
Thanks for reading, I hope you found this post of interest.
I would love to hear your thoughts and comments below, or feel free to tweet me at @Simon_Whyatt
This article was written by Simon Whyatt and first appeared on the blog Live Now Thrive Later.