A lively audience packed out Eden’s Gallery last week for a fascinating rainforest debate chaired by George Alagiah, ‘Are the rainforests for sale?’
The debate sparked discussion on solutions to deforestation, ranging from global financial incentives to sustainable palm oil to ecotourism.
The expert panel, who had some 150 years of combined experience working in rainforests and campaigning for their protection, shared their infectious passion for these incredible places and revealed a bit about what inspired them to devote their lives to this cause.
The audience heard how a chance encounter with a three-toed sloth in Panama first got Andrew Mitchell [picture above], now Executive Director of the Global Canopy Programme, hooked on rainforest protection and canopy exploration.
He’d bought the animal off a local market seller who was about to sell it for meat. Having rescued the tenacious sloth he released it back to the wild; as he watched it climb slowly and majestically up to the top of the trees he knew he needed to find out more about the rainforest canopy and the amazing life it holds.
Some considered questions from the audience got the speakers offering their take on pressing topics.
Emma Rundle from South Devon College asked about palm oil: ‘I try to avoid using palm oil as I know it causes rainforest destruction, but what are the alternatives?
Andrew Mitchell explained that ‘Palm oil itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important that it’s sustainably produced palm oil. At the moment this is more expensive so very few people use it. We need to support sustainable production and understand the real cost of cheaper palm oil; environmental destruction.’
The panel also mentioned the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a consortium of groups working together to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil
Eden’s Fiona Dunsmore asked what penalties companies faced if they were found operating illegally in protected rainforests areas.
Simon Counsell, Director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, explained that the real problem is that there is no way to enforce laws and penalties. National laws are undermined by corruption, whilst fines for illegal logging are small in comparison to the profits logging companies make, and are rarely enforced.
Fierce debate ensued from the floor and the panel over whether the law of ecocide should be introduced. ‘Ecocide’ refers to holding individuals or companies legally accountable for large scale environmental destruction or over consumption of non-renewable resources. It proposes a system being put in place that would be the equivalent of the International Courts of Justice in the Hague, to deal with ecological crimes.
Two thirds of the audience voted in favour of recognising ecocide as a crime, but there were more doubts over how it would be implemented.
The evening ended with an important question from Chris Salisbury: ‘What is the most useful action an individual can do or make at a personal level, to sustain the rainforests?’
‘Use less stuff,’ said Simon Counsell, Chief Executive of the Rainforest Foundation, who suggested that we need to be more careful about sourcing products from rainforests, on a large scale.
‘Start a revolution!’ was Andrew Mitchell’s answer. He believes we need to use the power of the internet to create a social revolution and campaign on rainforest protection.
Plant specialist Professor Sir Ghillean Prance FRS insisted that: ‘We must be politically active. This is one of the most important things we can do.’
By Robyn Cummins