When thinking about drivers of deforestation, many people think of palm oil. This ubiquitous vegetable oil is found in nearly half of packaged products in the United States, and the high demand has caused the palm industry to expand rapidly—sometimes leaving clear-cut forests in its path. But while palm oil is a huge driver of deforestation, Donnelly warns it’s not the only one.
“Sadly, deforestation is happening everywhere,” she says, explaining how the Rainforest Alliance works to regulate everything from food crops like coffee, cocoa, and tea to household items like paper, beauty products, and clothes to ensure they were not made in a way that harms forests. These products are harvested around the world, and deforestation is responsible for the death of koalas in Australia, orangutans in Sumatra, and birds in the Amazon. According to NASA, if current rates of tropical deforestation continue, the world’s rain forests as we know them will vanish within 100 years.
However, Donnelly sees glimmers of hope in this destructive market. Watchdog organizations like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil now monitor around 10 percent of palm farms to ensure they operate in a way that is respectful to workers and wildlife, and governments like that of Costa Rica are enforcing sweeping biodiversity laws to protect local ecosystems from being exploited for financial gain.
In the end, she thinks that it will take a wide array of policies, labels, and laws to protect our forests. “The solution needs to come from all angles. It needs to be a combination of corporate commitments, governmental commitments, local NGOs on the ground, and consumers demanding transparency and awareness,” she says.
That last part is where you come in. Being an informed, conscious consumer can have far-reaching effects. Get started with Donnelly’s simple forest-friendly shopping checklist:
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