Save the rainforests (Jun07)

South American travels

Cool Earth has really hit the news this week. So much so that when I went to look at their website it had crashed from too much interest. To me that’s really good news (the popularity of the site rather than the technical problems) because the main aim of Cool Earth is to protect the rainforest. This happens to be the issue closest to my heart. I feel absolutely passionate about it. In fact that’s what started me working as an environmental consultant and writer.

It all began with a trip to South America. In 1983 I went to Peru with a girl friend – Juliet.  We arrived at Lima airport in the middle of the night with some dollars (not yet converted to Peruvian currency), our South American Handbook (a bible for backpackers) and our ra ra skirts (they were fashionable at the time).  I knew two phrases in Spanish – ‘That’s too expensive’ and ‘Go away’. Both proved to be very useful.

We travelled South in Peru to the town of Arequipa, where we made ourselves very sick from eating strange fruit bought at the market. The worst thing though, was getting robbed. Our guide-book had warned us that 80% of tourists travelling to Cusco on the train suffered this fate. But we managed it before we’d even got on the train. On the short bus-ride to the station our bags were slit with razor blades and my travellers cheques were stolen from the breast pocket of my jump suit. We had thought we were on the look out!

Further North from Cusco was my first rainforest experience. After a couples of days on a bus, we headed up the Urumbamba river in a canoe and camped for the night. This was no peaceful night in the wilderness – the cacophony was over-whelming. Frogs, birds, perhaps even monkeys but most of all insects. You could hear them, you could see them and you could definitely feel them – I’m not sure who won the competition for the most bites…

The strange thing about the rainforest is that most of the animals remain invisible. It’s not like Attenborough’s Life on Earth, where everything is not only on display but probably hunting or mating too. What we did see though was a wall of colourful McCaws – I’m tempted to say parrots but that’s not strictly accurate. Anyway they were a beautiful mix of blues, yellows and reds – and there were lots of them nesting and nestling on the cliff face that bordered the river…

Forest destruction

It wasn’t until I visited the Pantanal in the South East of Brazil, a few months later, that I witnessed the forest being chopped down. Huge noisy chainsaws, their ugly sound echoing across the canopy. Big vehicles dragging the fallen timber across the floor of the forest like dead animals. It was sad. It seemed catastrophic. They weren’t just destroying trees but so much more – a whole living eco-system.

Now I know they were also killing the planet too. Cool Forest tell us that each acre of rainforest locks away 260 tons of carbon. Rainforest destruction in Brazil accounts for 75% of its greenhouse gas emissions, which is why Brazil is actually the world’s fourth largest climate polluter.

Many carbon off-set schemes invest in planting trees, as well as energy-efficiency and encouraging renewable energy, such as wind and solar. I’m not against that per se – I’d certainly prefer people to make donations to these things than contribute nothing. But I can’t help feeling that saving the rainforests is even more important. It should be easier to keep what we have than to re-create it.

So I’m going to buy rainforest land. Either through Cool Earth or Rainforest Concern – I haven’t yet decided which. And in future I’m going to ask clients that want me to travel by plane if they’ll contribute too. It never feels like it’s enough but I’d like to do something…..

Posted originally on Telegraph Blogs by Julia Hailes  Comments [3]

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