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Rainforest activist addresses students about conservation

| Friday, November 4, 2016

On Thursday, Tim Keating, executive director of the not-for-profit Rainforest Relief, came to Saint Mary’s to give a presentation called “Deforestation, Climate Change and Consumption: Our Links to Tropical Forest Destruction,” about sustainable consumption and the history of his conservation group.

Keating said Rainforest Relief started in 1989. 

“We started the group in New Jersey,” he said. “My co-founder had been to Peru, and he had seen some rainforest destruction first-hand. Coming back, he got in touch with Rainforest Action Network to get active and do something locally.

“I think the most interesting thing about starting a rainforest group in the middle of New Jersey was making [rainforest conservation] relative. Many folks in New Jersey hadn’t even heard of rainforests when we started.”

Keating said that although he didn’t start a conservation group until later, he had always been aware of material waste and irresponsible consumption.

“We ended up focusing on consumption of destructive products because my father was in the paper industry and I had ended up seeing all this propaganda of the paper industry for years and years,” he said. “I just watched people waste stuff; even as a teenager I thought something doesn’t seem right about this, we keep using this stuff and throwing it away, it’s got to come from somewhere. I very quickly became aware of the problems with materials they were clearing rainforests to make. So that became our main focus as an organization.”

Keating said that Rainforest Relief began as a protest group in order to spread the word about rainforest conservation.

“We’ve been protesting since our beginning; our first protest was on Earth Day in 1990 — that was our biggest,” he said. “Back then, protests were unusual, you would get a lot of press just by doing protests. In 1998, we hung the tallest protest banner ever. But why do stuff like this now, why do direct-action protests? The idea of doing these direct-action protests is in the hope that the word gets out in a big way, and you get coverage.”

Keating said that the group has a successful past, but the work isn’t over just yet.

“We’ve stopped more tropical hardwood use in the country than any other group in history,” he said. “Looking back at 25 years of action, we have a lot of victories. But the problem persists.”

Keating said he asks consumers to opt against tropical hardwoods, beef, bananas, coffee, chocolate, petroleum and paper to spare the rainforests, as these contribute to over-consumption of precious rainforest resources. He said to buy products that are domestic or organically grown.

Keating said that as much as 90 percent of all diversity found on Earth can be found in a rainforest and this is why it’s so important to protect the rainforest.

“In the beginning, the Earth was 15 percent rainforests, and there’s no doubt that the tropical rainforest reigns in terms of biodiversity, but now we’ve lost over half of our rainforests, and we can’t afford to lose all that biodiversity,” he said. 

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  • Tim Keating

    Thanks for the story, Ms. Twardosz. It is quite comprehensive.
    I just wanted to make a few minor clarifications.
    First, while Rainforest Relief was running campaigns starting in 1990 that involved letters, petitions and postcards, our first protest action was in 1993 in Avon-by-the-Sea, NJ.
    Second, I try to make sure to state the name of our planet as “Earth”, which is the ‘official’ name according to the International Space Agency, NASA and others. In my opinion, using an article in front of the name of our planet diminishes our perception of Earth to that of an object, rather than a grand being of which we are all a part, from which we have all come and to which we will all dissipate again. When people use “the Earth” (or, even worse, “the earth”), I believe it enables the perception that the planet is just a rock on which we walk — thus culturally allowing us to mine, drill, log and otherwise destroy it — and (since it’s just a lifeless object) that Earth is ours to use and abuse in whatever way brings us convenience, money, power or other perceived gains. Just like with misogynistic men, this perception has developed in our culture to allow for an assumption of control because we are inherently a culture of insecurity, just as men in this culture are inherently insecure and therefore attempt to diminish and control other genders. So, while there is certainly a convention to use the term “the Earth”, I try my best to say “Earth” in practice, which has helped me shift my mindset about our grand Mother — and I hope will spread, in a small way, the sense that “Earth” is a proper name for a unique, grand and wondrous being, and one that we must truly respect if we are to have any hope of living here successfully into the future.