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August 19, 2009

Saving The Rainforests

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Indonesia – Lions and tigers, oh my! Save the rainforest! We must have the biodiversity! The jungle absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen. We need it or we will die!


These mantras, hysterically broadcast from western nations, are devoid of reality in developing nations. Even those countries that have done everything possible to work with environmentalists have found proposed solutions untenable.


The revenue, from cutting timber, builds schools, hospitals, sewage treatment plants, water purification stations and roads. The people in developing nations are not content with a substandard way of life. It’s only some in the west who envision a nation satisfied with working rice fields behind a water buffalo, fishing with only sails and climbing coconut trees to harvest the nuts.


After clearing, agricultural interests usually demand the planting of oil palm. This cash crop is transformed into soap, cooking oil, cosmetics and many other products. The monies from the crop then sustain employment for teachers, doctors, nurses and other highly educated citizens.


Blue- collar jobs are also created for those who must switch from a nomadic – or agricultural – way of life to a new form of existence. Guards, cooks, drivers, gardeners, clerks, to name a few, participate in the revenues from oil palm.


It is quite obvious that palm oil estates will never, ever replace a rainforest. Cognizant of mounting criticism, some managers have endeavored to plant environmentally friendly plantations. Assured their products will be purchased, even though the price will be higher, thousands of acres have been tilled according to the formula. But, the companies Unilever, Nestle and Kraft, according to the Asia Wall Street Journal, refused to purchase the product, buying instead, the cheaper oil from environmentally unfriendly sources. So much for corporate responsibility.


Despite reports in the western press and Al Jeezera, the people do not want to spend their lives running half naked through the jungle using a blow gun. In my conversations with them with the local denizens, many realize they have this life-style but definitely do not want it for their children. Parents know and understand their way of life is changing and are optimistic about the future. They want the schools the clearing of the forest will provide.


In an effort to stem the flow of people to the cities and creating slums, many had proposed building tourist enclaves at the edge of forests. Here, locals would find employment. “It is easier to garden or repair buildings than to sit out in a fishing boat for two weeks and maybe catch enough to sell to eat,” one local denizen informed me. Another stated the rainforest no longer provides the needs of modernity requested by the people. A regular job does.


These enclaves have been built with most amenities of a three- star hotel. Many have kitchens, hot showers, some with a pool. Activities include jungle walks, night- time activities, local cultural shows and river trips. All of the things any tourist would want. Prices are low compared to similar structures in other parts of the world.


“Where is everybody,” I ask when I am the only one staying there. Although the employees are in place, the guests are missing. The environmental groups forgot that they need to stay there. When asked, they blame the government for not marketing them properly. When I check the tourist information, I find they are included. It does not work because the western groups who demanded these actions have not supported them.


There are many huge, million hectare areas, reserved for the orang hutan. Yet, these efforts are not lauded by the environmental groups. Rather, criticism on top of criticism spews forth to the point that most feel they can’t to anything right.


I often visit the orang hutans at a reserve near here. I watch as tourists are led to the observation platform to watch as these semi-wild rescued apes are fed. Before the trek, they are advised not to use flash cameras, to be quiet, don’t bring in water, and other rules of common sense. They are also asked for a small donation.


At the end, guess what? Very few, if any, stuff a ringitt (about 27 cents) into the box to help support the endeavors. They walk back to their buses for the crocodile farm where the reptiles are teased with a piece of chicken hung on a wire above a man made pond. When they jump, the chicken is pulled away at the last minute.


The answer, to me is obvious. Developed nations need to work together, provide billions of dollars to build the infrastructures and then keep a steady flow of monies to pay for the salaries of those working in the structures. Everybody wins. The rain forest survives and people’s lives are improved. It is also obvious that will never, ever happen.


These are no answers to saving the rainforest, but there are partial solutions. Multinational food corporations could spend a little more for environmentally friendly palm oil. One should inform stockholders to demand action.


When traveling or surfing the Internet for a place to stay, visitors might want to consider those locations built specifically to help save the environment. Okay, you might not get satellite television, e-mail or hand phone services; but, hey, a night or two without those will probably do you some good. You might learn your children’s names and realize you have a wife or husband. Besides, how much more money does Paris Hilton need?


And, when a donation is requested and you are at the site, stuff a hand full of paper money into the box. Paper money mind you, not coins.


The western world needs to keep up awareness of the rainforest, but yet must also realize the needs and quickly changing requirements of the people who live there. Only through a partnership of trust and kept promises can the rainforest be saved.


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