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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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About Gina Twardosz

Gina Twardosz is a senior English Writing and Communication Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. She's the co-editor of the Investigative Unit, a Saint Mary's social media liaison, and she occasionally writes for SMC News and Scene. Gina is a tried and true Midwesterner and yes, she does say "ope" often.

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