On a college campus, our consumption of resources is clear to see, between all the paper that is used, coffee cups, cars on campus, meat consumption, broken sprinklers that leak water, the to-go food packaging for all the food we eat; the list goes on.
Something that we don’t see every day is the impact of this consumption of resources. We don’t see rivers and lakes at their lowest levels, or clear-cut forests that provide all the paper products we use, or the land that has been cleared for livestock grazing to feed our meat addiction. And, if we cannot look at the destruction resulting from our paper products or meat consumption, this is because we outsource this environmental degradation.
Deforestation, the act of cutting down forest cover for the land to be utilized for other uses, is not so much an issue of the Northern Hemisphere, but one of the southern nations, where we have steadily cut back the forests in these regions to feed our addictions in the United States and other industrial and post-industrial states. An estimated 18 million acres of forest are lost each year.
There is no denying the importance of forests ecologically. Tropical forests, like the ones being cut down, are hubs of biodiversity, but they also serve as carbon sinks, as all the plants in forests can absorb carbon and release oxygen in photosynthesis. As we continue to emit more carbon into the environment, we overload the natural carbon cycle the ecosystems are accustomed to, and they cannot absorb all the extra carbon in the atmosphere. You can imagine how much more carbon is floating in the atmosphere when we cut down some of the most important carbon sinks.
There’s a lot of damage that has been done, and there’s a lot of recovering that the ecosystems have to do, but there are important first steps that we can take to lower our impact on these forests.
1. Cut down your meat consumption.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again– consumption of meat is incredibly degrading to the environment. Not only is there a huge amount of water used to sustain these animals, but also an incredible amount of land. We need a lot of land to house these animals, but we also need land to grow the food that we feed the animals. If we cut out the animal aspect of this and focus on turning these lands into plant-based growth, there will be far less of a need to clear more forest.
2. Pay attention to what you purchase.
Something that has become really prevalent the past few years is the power of the market. When consumers make sustainable choices in products, the private sector adjusts to meet the demands of the consumers. Buy things that are Rainforest Alliance Certified (it’s the green frog on the packaging!), especially with things like palm oil, any wood product, soy, and if you continue to choose to eat meat, that too.
3. Try to use less paper.
I know in college we’re pretty much required to use paper, but if you find yourself printing out a lot of things, or throwing away scratch paper a lot, see if you can’t find an alternative. Tons of things can be pulled up on our phones or computers now (like tickets, grocery lists, bills, etc.), so try to utilize some of those online resources. If you use half a sheet of paper, keep a stack of paper at home that you can use for scratch, or origami. Just reuse it.
4. Support indigenous people in these regions.
Much of the land that is used for deforestation actually belongs to indigenous tribes and groups. You should support these folks regardless of deforestation, but protecting these groups and their lands simultaneously protects forests. Not to mention, there is a lot to learn from these indigenous people and their sustainable way of life.
See? It is possible as a student at Colorado State University to take the initiative and do what you can to protect forests. But it’s imperative that you don’t forget after reading this article to make sustainable choices. Force yourself to incorporate these things into your life, and you’ll find they fit more naturally, and you’ll feel a lot better than before.